How to Search the U.S. National Archives

National Archives
Learn how to search the National Archives

What are the National Archives?

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the United States government that is responsible for preserving and documenting government and historical records. They are considered to be the nation’s official record keepers.

The administration was originally created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934, but it holds documents and materials dating back to 1775.

The National Archives and Records Administration is also responsible for maintaining and publishing copies of:

  • acts of Congress
  • presidential proclamations
  • executive orders
  • federal regulations
  • other government documents

Only about 1% to 3% of the documents and materials during the course of governmental activities are considered to be important enough to be kept forever. The records belong to U.S. citizens, so they are available to search by anyone free of charge.

The physical National Archives building is located in College Park, MD. The building is a modern facility that allowed the NARA to consolidate all of its Washington-area records. The six-story building’s present records storage capacity is approximately 2 million cubic feet, and its research rooms can accommodate up to 390 researchers at a time.

In addition to managing the nation’s physical records, the NARA manages electronic data as well. NARA must also manage the rapidly growing number of electronic Government records. The Electronic Records Archives (ERA) is the method of preserving, managing and providing the public with access to electronic records.

The ERA keeps essential electronic Federal records retrievable, readable, and authentic for as long as they remain valuable—whether that is a few years or a few hundred years.

How to Search the National Archives Website / Catalog

As mentioned above, the ERA is available online and can be used to search for a wide variety of documents and official records. Approximately 85% of the overall documentation in the national archive can be searched. Following is a list of topics and categories contained in the database:

  • Agriculture
  • Air Force
  • American Indian
  • Commerce
  • Defense
  • District of Columbia Government
  • Donated Materials
  • Education / Culture
  • Energy
  • Executive Office of the President / Presidential Agencies
  • Genealogical
  • General Government
  • Health and Human Services
  • Homeland Security
  • Housing and Urban Affairs
  • Interior / Environment
  • Judicial
  • Justice / Law Enforcement
  • Labor
  • Legislative
  • Maritime
  • Modern Army
  • Modern Navy
  • New Deal / Great Depression
  • Old Army / Old Navy
  • Regional Archives
  • Science and Technology
  • State / Foreign Affairs
  • Transportation
  • Treasury / Revenue / Finance
  • World War II Emergency Agencies

This is just a high-level sample of the topics available. Visit the website for the full list.

What genealogical records are available online?

The website is a terrific resource for private investigators and genealogists. Following are some of the genealogy records available for research:

  • Veterans Administration
  • Post Office Department
  • Bureau of the Census
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • General Records of the Department of State
  • Immigration and Naturalization Service
  • American Battle Monuments Commission
  • Selective Service System, 1940-
  • Selective Service System (World War I)
  • War Relocation Authority
  • U.S. Soldier’s Home

Department of Defense Records

The database contains a huge collection of archived materials from the Department of Defense (DOD). Examples include data from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, Defense Intelligence Agency, and many more. Private detectives who are conducting military research will find this to be an extremely helpful resource.

More Information:

If you have any questions about the National Archives, please let us know.


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