Tutorial: NARA Public Access Search
6/9/2014
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), curator of federal government records, has made it easier to find documents that could shed light on your ancestors’ lives: Online Public Access (OPA), NARA’s new catalog, lets you cover in a single search what previously took at least three separate searches. OPA replaces the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), which shut down over the summer, plus it searches all web pages on the NARA and presidential library websites. In addition, it searches the Electronic Records Archives (ERA), which preserves the electronic records of the federal government.

What can you expect to find in OPA? For one, descriptions of federal government records genealogists use, such as censuses, passenger lists and military pension files. But OPA is perhaps most useful for ferreting out more-obscure records created when your forebears dealt with the federal government. For example, if an ancestor was a fugitive slave, a recognized member of a Native American tribe, an inmate in a federal penitentiary or a party to a lawsuit tried in a federal court, NARA could have the records to prove it. Most listings in OPA just describe the records, but sometimes you can view images of original documents. If the records haven’t been digitized, you can request copies.