Before you visit, drop by the virtual home of the National Archives, www.archives.gov. This recently redesigned site offers lots of helpful information about the archives, its holdings and how to prepare for an on-site visit. Highlights include:
- a virtual Research Room for genealogists
- an alphabetical index to the most frequently used pages and topics
- Frequently Asked Questions, along with answers provided by agency experts
- what’s new on the Web site
- nationwide facilities: hours, locations, directions and links to their Web sites
- NARA publications and ordering instructions
You’ll also find ordering information for the NARA catalogs that list its microfilm collections, such as censuses, immigrant and passenger arrival records, black studies, American Indians and military records. Another catalog contains a comprehensive list of microfilms. Many of these catalogs are also online.
While online, you can read the Web version of The Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, a three-volume guide to the archives. This version includes descriptions of federal records acquired by NARA since the printed guide was released in 1996. Also at www.archives.gov you can search NAIL, the NARA Archival Information Locator database, which includes a variety of record descriptions and indexes—and, in some cases, digital images of archival holdings.
The Web site lists genealogy workshops and other educational events at NARA that are offered each month. It also has prices and information on ordering forms for service by mail, in case you’re unable to travel to Washington, DC. There are times when it may take many weeks or months for some mail orders to be completely filled, depending upon the workload. Many researchers opt to hire a local researcher to obtain records on their behalf.
What if you checked the NARA Web site at home and need to recheck it while at NARA? No problem! Several computers in the building are available to access the NARA site and other sites designed to help in historical research. While you can’t search for recipes or the latest sports scores, you can check an online census index, the Bureau of Land Management’s land records Web site www.glorecords.blm.gov, a library catalog for any of your ancestral states and other helpful sites.
For a complete guide to research at NARA, see the October 2002 issue of Family Tree Magazine.