Genealogy Hacks: National Archives and Records Administration

Genealogy Hacks: National Archives and Records Administration

Do your online ancestor searches feel like exercises in futility? Use our tricks to crack this top genealogy Web site.

Admit it. You return again and again to the popular genealogy Web sites – FamilySearch, USGenWeb, RootsWeb and others – looking for clues about your ancestors. If you’re repeating the same searches but not finding much, it’s time to give your technique an overhaul.

We’ve taken a fresh look at seven familiar sites, examined their search options, and even figured out how to use Google <google.com> to probe them more efficiently. So get out of that rut – and finally find your ancestors – with these “hacks” for effectively mining the Internet’s most-frequented family history stops.

National Archives and Records Administration <archives.gov>

Only a fraction of the National Archives Records Administration’s (NARA) records are online, but they include key military, immigration and American Indian databases. The Web site also helps you access the archives’ offline records. Follow these guidelines to ferret out information on this large, sometimes unwieldy site:

Orient yourself to the archives’ holdings. NARA’s Web site, once noteworthy forwordy, cluttered screens and difficult navigation, has become somewhat simpler to surf. For a clear rundown of the site’s genealogy resources, click Genealogists/Family Historians, then Research Topics for Genealogists. Dozens of essays cover census, court, immigration, military and naturalization records, as well as passenger lists and ethnic research. The essays link to databases on NARA’s Web site and elsewhere.

Comb the Archival Research Catalog(ARC). On the right side of the home page under Online Databases, you’ll see a link to ARC. To get a taste of the genealogical content available-as well as instructions for searching it-follow the Genealogical Sources in ARC link on the ARC main page. Note: The American Indian databases are easier to search at Access Genealogy <www.accessgenealogy.com/native>.

Investigate Access to Archival Databases (AAD). Look for a link just below ARC on the home page. AAD’s searchable databases include New York passenger arrival lists from 1846 to 1851 (called Famine Irish Data Files), World War II enlistees and POWs, Korean War POWs and Japanese-American internees during World War II. Select the topic you want from the AAD main page; you can then search the entire category or individual series and files.

Get copies of original records. NARA’s Order Online service lets you request copies of popular records–such as military service documents and passenger lists-right on the Web site and pay with your credit card. It’s cheaper to borrow microfilmed census records and Revolutionary War pension and service records through an FHL branch Family History Center or the National Archives Microfilm Rental Program <archives. gov/research/orderl renting-microfilm.html>. But the only way to get copies of records that haven’t been microfilmed – such as Union Civil War service and pension files – is to request them from NARA.
 
From the May 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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