Navigating the site
- AAD: Access to Archival Databases is NARA’s system for searching a variety of indexes. (Turn the page to “Searching for ancestors.”)
- ARC: The Archival Research Catalog has descriptions of NARA record holdings.
- Genealogists/Family Historians: Located in the green box on the home page (or go to <archives.gov/genealogy>), this page (shown below, along wih NARA’s home page) is the best jumping-off point to NARA’s online genealogy resources. Besides records guides (next section), you’ll find the Beginning Your Genealogical Research at NARA PowerPoint presentation (link at bottom right).
- Genealogy/Getting Started: Click this link in the Most Requested box on the home page (or go to <archives.gov/genealogy/start-research>) for links to descriptions of NARA’s most popular genealogy records and several databases. Here’s a look at this page:
The National Archives Web site also offers guides to frequently used record collections. These handy guides aren’t gathered in one central location. Your best bet is to access them directly through the links here:
- Censuses: Get tips for using population and nonpopulation census records from 1790 to 1930, plus Indian census rolls from 1885 to 1940. Use links on the left to navigate to different pages of the guide.
- Military records: Learn which of NARA’s military service records, pension applications and bounty land warrant applications may apply to your ancestor. Particularly useful is the information on records available for soldiers in wars from the American Revolution to Vietnam.
- Immigration records: Wonder which port your immigrant ancestor arrived at? Study this list of passenger records at NARA for US ports, and years covered. You also can link to several immigration indexes in AAD.
- Naturalization records: Learn whether your ancestor’s naturalization papers might be at NARA or elsewhere, and how to access them.
- Land records: This guide explains NARA’s 10 million-plus land entry case files documenting the transfer of public lands from the US government to private citizens. Those include homestead files and bounty- land warrant applications for military service. You also can link to the Bureau of Land Management’s patent search.
- Other guides: Click Research Topics for Genealogists in the left margin of either genealogy page for links to research advice on topics such as African-American and other ethnicities, post office records, citation help and lots more. Click Genealogy Articles Featured in Prologue Magazine (under Highlighted resources) for in-depth information on a range of topics.
Searching for ancestors
- Copies by mail: See How to Obtain Copies of Records for instructions to order photocopies of records. For a steep fee (see our NARA Cheat Sheet for fees), you can order frequently requested records, such as military pensions and land entry case files, using the Order Online system (select Order Reproductions).
- Microfilm: Some of NARA’s microfilmed records are available through interlibrary loan (ask your librarian for assistance). It costs $3.50 per roll to rent one to four rolls of microfilm, plus $6 shipping per order. You pay less per roll for bulk orders. You can search the National Archives’ microfilm catalog online (click Microfilm). Search on a state to see film that might mention your ancestors.
- Online: FamilySearch (free), HeritageQuest Online (free through many libraries) and the subscription sites Ancestry.com and Footnote have many NARA indexes and records (some collections are incomplete). If you’re at a NARA facility, you can access all these services free.
- Visit: Each NARA regional facility stores federal agency and government records from its respective region (for example, the Pacific Region in San Bruno, Calif., has Chinese immigration case files from 1903 to 1915, and the Central Plains Region in Kansas City, Mo., has some Minnesota naturalization records). All the facilities have US census microfilm. NARA’s headquarters in Washington DC and the “Archives II” building in College Park, Md., have passenger list microfilm and most pre-WWI military records. (Later military service records are at NARA’s National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.)