Legacy Tree Genealogists works with researchers all over the world to access records for our clients. We asked Michele, a genealogist based in Washington, D.C., to tell us about her experience with the U.S. National Archives there.
I am a professional genealogist and I live in northern Virginia, in a suburb of Washington, D.C. There are many museums and archives available within 25 miles of my home which makes this environment a historian’s dream. One in particular is of great value in my line of work.
The largest repository of original and historic records in the United States is the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), located at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Washington DC. A few examples of the many original records available at the National Archives include the following: (1) photos and documents; (2) original census pages; (3) military service records, including original enlistment papers, pension files, and bounty land warrant applications; and (4) historical resources for educators.
My very first day at the archives, I was required to obtain a NARA researcher’s card. In order to do so, a patron is first required to view a brief orientation on computer. This orientation outlines guidelines and regulations for all researchers of the archives.
The NARA building itself is very historic. A giant library, it contains multiple levels where public documents are available for research. Most of the original historic documents are kept in vaults in the basement, not readily accessible to the public. However, there is a computerized catalog which identifies all records of the archive. Researchers can use this to request a review of original records kept within those vaults.
The archive has a very organized process utilized to retrieve documents from the vaults for researchers, which runs on a timed schedule on the hour. In order for a researcher to request a vaulted document, they have to fill out an archive request card and include the reference information of the desired document from the computer catalog, in addition to their individual researcher number as found on their research card. Then, the researcher gives the request card to an archive employee and waits for the document to be procured at the next available record-pull. Once the documents have been brought up, the archive makes them available for review by researchers in certain rooms of the archives. Photocopies can be made of original documents, but to prevent theft of the originals, all copy machines at the archives only have blue paper. As one would anticipate, the archive has tight security and all researchers and documents are searched upon both entering and leaving the premises. This controlled process for searching papers as one leaves the archive ensures that no original documents are taken by researchers, either intentionally or accidentally.
The NARA is a very rich place for accessing original documents pertaining to our nation’s history and individual family histories as well. Should you not live close enough to access it in person as I can, these records can be ordered for a fee online at http://archives.gov. Be aware, though, that the wait time for receiving your records by mail can be up to several months.
Do you have ancestors who might have been mentioned in a collection at NARA? Among other documents, Legacy Tree Genealogists receives frequent requests to obtain military records in particular from that repository for the Civil War and other conflicts. Let us – and Michele! – help you learn more. Contact Legacy Tree today for a free consultation.