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How to Trace Federal Regulations: A Beginner's Guide

Regulatory History: Source Notes

Federal regulations are promulgated through a process referred to as the “rulemaking process.” During this process, federal regulations are published in two primary sources: the CFR, discussed previously, and the Federal Register. The Federal Register is the official daily publication of the United States Government. It is published daily Monday through Friday and “contains Presidential documents, proposed, interim, and final rules and regulations, and notices of hearings, decisions, investigations and committee meetings.“1 Federal rules and regulations usually appear at least twice in the Federal Register – once as a proposed rule, to provide the public with notice and with an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule, and again as the final version of the rule. Therefore, to learn more about a rule or regulation’s history and origins, researchers generally want to trace the rule back from the CFR to where it appears in the Federal Register.

To figure out where a rule or regulation was published in the Federal Register, you will want to find that rule’s “source note(s)” in the CFR. A source note typically appears at the beginning of a larger unit of the CFR, such as a Part or Subpart, and may also appear in brackets following a particular provision. In either case, it will generally provide you with one or more citations to the Federal Register. A citation to the Federal Register–for example “77 FR 58945, Sept. 25, 2012”– gives you several pieces of information, including the volume number (in this example, the citation refers you to volume 77), the page number of that volume (here, page number 58945), and the date of the issue of the Federal Register where the publication of the rule appears (here, September 25th, 2012).

Once you have a citation, you can locate the Federal Register in various sources, including:

Generally speaking, the citation you will find in the source notes will lead you to that rule or regulation’s “final rule” publication.2

Resources Referenced


  1. For more information about the history of the Federal Register, we suggest reading the National Archives and Records Administration publication “A Brief History Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Publication of the First Issue of the Federal Register.” Back to text
  2. Occasionally, the citation you find in the source note leads not to the final publication of the rule, but rather to a notice that the rule has been relocated or re-codified. This indicates that your rule used to appear at a different position in the CFR, and was moved to its current position at a later time. Such changes to the CFR, including such moves or re-codifications, are noted in the Federal Register, and cited in the source note to allow researchers to trace it back to its original position in the CFR. Therefore, you will need locate the rule as it originally appeared in the CFR – prior to its move or re-codification – to find the source note leading to the rule’s ‘final publication” in the Federal Register. Simply use the information given about the rule’s move or re-codification to look up the rule in its old position in the previous year’s CFR. You may also find helpful information about relocated rules in the LSA for that year. Back to text