I recently made my first visit to the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA). This is one in a series of articles inspired by that visit to help you make your first visit to the National Archives.
NARA records available in your home town
Wouldn't you just die if you spent a bunch of money to visit the National Archives only to find that what you want is available in your own library? Don't even ask me about the time I flew to Salem, Massachusetts to visit the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum only to have them give me a FamilySearch/GSU film.
Many of the most popular NARA records of genealogical significance have been microfilmed or digitized for online access. Like my experience at the Peabody Museum, even if you show up in person to see an original record held by the archive, you'll be directed to a computer or a microfilm if the record is available in one of these forms.
The primary advantage of accessing NARA records from home is, of course, except for a lucky few in the D.C. area, it is cheaper than traveling to Washington. The challenge in accessing NARA records online or at a local Family History Center (FHC) is discovering what records are available, since NARA partners don't always do a good job of allowing visitors to search by NARA publication number or title. I've poked about and collected some information in that regard that should help.
- Access to Archival Databases (AAD) - Search electronic records in NARA's custody. A very limited number of records are online.
- Archival Research Catalog (ARC) - The "card catalog" of the National Archives. A very, very few items in NARA's huge collection have been digitized and can be found using the Digital Copies search or accessed from the Digital Copies tab of any catalog item that has a digitized copy.
ARC is a work in progress and currently contains descriptions for just a small number of the items in NARA's collections. And of those items, not all the names have been entered into the People search. I imagine as the 5-year deadlines expire on partner agreements, the resulting names and images will drop right into these slots on ARC.
Ancestry.com sets the standard in helping NARA patrons access NARA publications that Ancestry.com has placed online. Not that it can't be improved upon, but other vendors would do well to check out the minimum standard set by Ancestry.com.
To access NARA collections on Ancestry.com, click the appropriate link shown below depending on where you are trying to access Ancestry.com from.
- Click Home if you are at home, however some collections will require a subscription. - Click NARA if you are at any National Archives location, including presidential libraries. - Click FHL if you are at the Salt Lake Family History Library. - Click Library for a public library or institution with the Ancestry Library Edition by ProQuest.
- "Family meets history" - Ancestry.com/NARA partnership page. (Home, NARA, FHL, Library)
- "Records from The National Archives" - Lists NARA records available on Ancestry.com by microfilm publication number, NARA title, Ancestry.com title and microfilm roll count. (Home, NARA, FHL, Library)
The intent of the second page is to list NARA collections alphabetically by publication number, so you can browse through the list. To be more certain, use your browser's Edit > Find (or Search) function and search for the publication number and if necessary by part of the title. The roll count is given so that you can check to see if Ancestry.com has published all the records available. Incomplete collections result when NARA adds additional films to a collection, such as military service records or when Ancestry.com incrementally publishes a large NARA collection, such as naturalization records.
This page is currently created by hand, but Ancestry.com spokesperson, Mike Ward, tells me they are planning to automate it so that it will always be up to date. Until then, you may want to consult the Ancestry Card Catalog in addition to this page.
Family History Library (FHL) Microfilm
I venture to say, if it isn't available online, if NARA has published the records on microfilm then your local family history center (FHC) can probably get a copy on loan from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. There are 4,500 centers worldwide and most provide microfilm access.
The Family History Library Catalog indicates it has over 1,500 NARA publications available on microfilm.
- "National Archives microfilm publications" - Click on the link for a list of over 1,500 NARA microfilm publications available from the Family History Library for viewing in a family history center. (Thank's to FamilySearch's David Ouimette for providing this link.)
For more information about using family history centers and microfilm loan fees, see "Frequently Asked Questions."
Identifying the FHL film number corresponding to a NARA publication number is not always straightforward. Sometimes the NARA publication number is listed in the FHL catalog (FHLC), but not always. For example, M881 is cataloged as M0881. And M1819 is not mentioned in its catalog entry. The correspondence between some NARA publications and FHL film numbers is given in these FamilySearch publications:
- 1790-1840 Census register : a listing of Family History Library microfilm numbers for the 1790-1840 United States Federal Census population schedules
- The 1850 census register : a listing of Family History Library film numbers for the 1850 United States federal population schedules
- The 1860 census register : a listing of Family History Library film numbers for the 1860 United States federal population schedules
- The 1870 census register : a listing of Family History Library film numbers for the 1870 United States federal population schedules
- The 1880 census register : a listing of Family History Library film numbers for the 1880 United States federal population schedules and indexes
- 1890 U.S. census : index to surviving population schedules and register of film numbers to the special census of Union veterans - gives FHL film numbers, but not NARA roll numbers
- 1900 census register : a listing of Family History Library microfilm numbers for the 1900 United States federal census population schedules and indexes
- The 1910 census register : a listing of Family History Library film numbers for the 1910 United States federal population schedules and indexes
- 1920 Census register : a listing of Family History Library microfilm numbers for the 1920 United States Federal census population schedules
- 1930 census register : a listing of Family History Library microfilm numbers for the 1930 United States federal census population schedules
- Register of New York City passenger lists, 1820-1957
- Register of Revolutionary War records
- Register of United States Passports 1795-1925- gives FHL film numbers, but not NARA roll numbers
- "Computer Numbers for selected National Archives microfilm publications," U.S. Military Records Research Outline - Click the NARA publication number to see the FHLC entry. Click the link on that page to see FHL film numbers. Doesn't show NARA roll numbers.
Next time, I'll look at NARA records available on Footnote.com, either via subscription or at a family history center. And if I don't get bored and go on to something else first, I'll take a look at NARA records available at HeritageQuest Online.