Private Laws

A private law passed by Congress can grant any benefit to any specifically identified person or persons.  Why do we care?  Laws passed by Congress are subject to public scrutiny, even private laws.  In order to pass a law to benefit a specific person, Congress needs (and keeps) supporting documentation.  Why? If Congress is “called out” for the passage of a private law, they depend upon submitted paperwork to explain or justify their actions!  Justify their actions .. documentation for us! 

Who is a qualified individual?  Any person or persons that Congress finds has been harmed by government actions (or inaction), or where the intervention of Congress to right a wrong or situation is justified. 

What kind of benefit?

  • Reimburse a person for damage caused by the government
  • Grant or extend eligibility for any government benefit
  • Increase benefit level above what the public law currently grants
  • Eliminate an impediment or barrier blocking eligibility for a person to any benefit program
  • Waive terms of service
  • Adjust the service record of a veteran
  • Correct any injustice or oversight that Congress finds compelling

In practical terms, what does this mean for my family history?  Why would my ancestors benefit from a private law?  This list suggests the breadth of issues that private laws may address.

Person Details Statute
Mary Jane Wallace A veterans disabled adult daughter granted a pension of $20 per month 46 Stat 1747
James Baker reimburse wagon, horse, 2 harnesses taken during Black Hawk War 6 Stat 707
Johne E Bisphanm Reimburse for seizure of Brig “Malaga” 6 Stat 777
John Frink Insane Revolutionary soldier granted life pension 6 Stat 231
Michael Hogan Reimburse for damages to house in Utica, NY 6 Stat 231
Thomas Park Payment for sails & rigging purchased during Revolutionary War 6 Stat 864
William Wolfe Payment for schooner Anna Sophia 31 Stat 1617

The Congressional documentation is stored in the Legislative Archives at the National Archives, Washington, DC.

  • RG 46 Archives of the United States Senate 
  • RG 233 Archives of the Unite States House of Representatives

Information about a private law may be found in a variety of places including

  • The Statutes at Large
  • Local newspapers
  • In Committee minutes (the law doesn’t have to be passed for documentation to exist)
  • In a military pension, service documentation, or other paperwork found in the National Archives
  • Correspondence

Please fill out this form, and email it to, and RumbleSoft will schedule your retrieval. Details on how our record retrieval process works are outlined here.