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Download National Archives Primary Sources available ONLINE Archival Research Basics with the National Archives Lesson # 7 The National Archives and Records Administration

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  • National Archives Primary Sources availableONLINEArchival Research Basics with the National ArchivesLesson # 7The National Archives and Records AdministrationPacific Alaska RegionSeattle, Washington & Anchorage, Alaska


  • Many original documents are available online at the National Archives website, as well as many useful resources for educators and their students. In this lesson we will explore the website and discover how the NARA holdings reproduced there might be efficiently accessed and used by teachers and students.

  • There are several different groups of document reproductions (scans) available at . ALL OF THEM ARE COLLECTIONS of National Archives records (see Lesson 2). That means they have been gathered for a specific purpose, such as an exhibit. There are billions of documents held in NARA facilities that have not been reproduced on the website.

  • In this lesson, we will examine the following: The Archival Research Catalog (ARC) Access to Archival Databases (AAD) Commercial websites offering National Archives documents and associated indexes Online exhibits that might contain reproduced documents on your topic

  • The Archival Research Catalog (ARC) ARC is the place where all of NARAs holdings will EVENTUALLY be described.

    Described means there will be all or a portion of the finding aid available online. (See lesson 5 for an example of a finding aid.) It does NOT mean that all of the documents themselves will be online, at least not for a very, very long time.

  • ARC Currently (2009) About 36% are not yet described or scannedNearly 64% of NARA holdings are described at the SERIES level in ARC 1,900,000+ cubic feet of original documents 140,000+ Documents have been scanned and are available for use on ARCSeries:Group (large or small) of related recordsExampleCivil Case Files, 1936 1980" , from the Seattle Division, Western Washington District, US District Courts (RG 21)

  • main pageIn order to access ARC, scroll down toward the bottom of the opening page

  • This is the main entrance to ARC.

  • You can see that if you have problems navigating the site, there are many articles posted here to help you.

  • You can also share this page with your friends or students.

  • Typing your topic or the name of a federal agency into this box will result in a general search. It will return a combination of descriptions and scanned images of actual documents.

  • Alternately, clicking here will take you to a page where you can choose a TAB and decide if you want to search: descriptions, scanned documents, people, or organizations.

  • Tabs Archival Descriptions Digital Copies People Organizations

  • An Archival Descriptions search means you may search for and find: The description of a series, like the one in the finding aid you saw in Lesson 5. The description of an item (sometimes a digital image of the document as well).

    This search is useful if you are looking for documents that are NOT yet scanned, but are held at a National Archives facility. It is also useful to locate finding aids and citations for particular series of records.

  • The Digital Copies tab will result ONLY in scanned documents. This is most useful for immediate needs. Generally the documents are in the public domain and have no copyright restrictions.This search is useful if you are looking for PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENTS that you can copy and paste or save to your computer. Occasionally the resolution leaves something to be desired. To make copies, select the largest image possible, then save it to your computer for best results.

  • The People tab searches individuals. This is great for searching for famous people, but includes some regular folks as well. (Remember that this is a collection of documents.) The browse facility is organized alphabetically. This search is useful if you are looking for records of an INDIVIDUAL

  • The Organizations tab returns names of organizations, agencies, companies and sometimes the names of the officers within the organization and a historical summary. However, occasionally there is nothing more than a note about the name being from an LCNAF file conversion (Library of Congress Name Authority File).This search is particularly useful if you are looking for an organization that might have had dealings with the National Archives.

  • A simple search on any TAB will find any of these words (up to 100 hits)

  • However, you can choose to return up to 2000 hits.

  • If you click this box the words you searched for will be highlighted in the resulting windows. The highlighted words will print out bold.

  • Use EVERY POSSIBLE search term you can think of The descriptions were not written originally for you and me. Early entries were written by archivists for archivists. A word from the name of the agency is always a safe search.

  • This was the result of a SIMPLE archival descriptions search for civil war women. Notice that some are civil war records, some are civil defense records, and some contain one of any one of the three terms like #2 from World War II.

  • You can also do an advanced search to be more specific.

  • The advanced search is more EXACT.

    In this search we put civil war in the EXACT PHRASE field.

  • You will notice that this advanced search received only 41 hits and focused on descriptions that included the words civil war and women.

  • For this search search-term [Japanese balloon] there are some additional items to notice.

  • This little symbol means there is at least one scanned document (digital image) included. (This one is a clip of a moving picture.)

  • This little symbol means there is an online resource available, such as additional finding aids.

  • Add to My List gives you the ability to make a list that can be printed or e-mailed to yourself.THIS LIST ONLY LASTS FOR 30 MINUTES. SEND TO YOURSELF OFTEN!

  • This page is the result of a simple archival descriptions search on the term glacier bridge. You can see that there are several textual entries (with no digital copies) and one panoramic photograph (with the digital copy symbol next to it).

    Lets click on the photograph.

  • This is what the page usually looks like that you will receive. (Sometimes there are no scope and content notes or digital copies, however)

  • The details tab gives you more information about the series or document.

  • The Scope and Content note (if there is one) gives you background information. LOOK FOR THESE!

  • This tab tells you if there are other copies of the document (perhaps on microfilm).

  • The Digital Copies tab gives you a thumbnail image that you can click on for a larger printable copy.

  • Hierarchy refers to the relationship of the document to the Record Group and Series great for citations!

  • The National Archives Access to Archival Databases (AAD)

  • Access to Archival Databases (AAD) AAD is the place where the National Archives posts and indexes records that have ALWAYS been electronic or were converted to electronic records at a later time.

    It currently includes records of: Japanese Internment Camps War Casualties from Korea and Vietnam Enlistment records from World War II Immigration records from the 1800s

  • It is located just below ARC on the main page (

  • The indexes are easy to use!

  • Sample page of electronic military records.

  • Commercial Sitesutilizing NARA records

    (And creating new indexes)Ancestry.comFootnote.comHeritage Quest online

  • Commercial Sitesutilizing NARA records

    Ancestry.comAvailable at:National Archives facilities at no costMany public libraries at no costOn your own computer for a feeGeared to the family historian (genealogist) but extremely useful for historical topics as well.

  • Commercial Sitesutilizing NARA recordsHeritage Quest OnlineAvailable at all National Archives facilities at no costAvailable through many public and private libraries at no costOften available from home through your local public library (using your library card)

  • Commercial Sitesutilizing NARA recordsFootnote.comAvailable at all National Archives facilities at no cost This company plans to digitize ALL National Archives microfilm Is scanning documents from other archives and libraries as well (Including the LDS library in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Pennsylvania State Archives )Available from home for a fee

  • Exhibits onlineExhibits are a good way to locate documents that are related by topic for use in the classroom.








  • Prologue and Other Online ArticlesPrologue magazine brings readers stories based on the rich holdings and programs of the National Archives across the nationfrom Washington, DC, to the regional archives and the Presidential libraries.

  • Prologue has been published quarterly by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for 40 years.

    Prologue is filled with articles that tie documents together by topic and can be searched usin


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