Searching the National Archives

Saturday, August 29, 2009
by LuAnn Schindler

You're conducting research for a piece about World War I. Along the way, you scour through books, look through microfilmed newspapers, but you want more. You want to glimpse at objects that document the journey of a soldier. Where can you find these objects? Begin at the National Archives.

The National Archives and Record Administration is the nation's record keeper, documenting the business conducted by the U.S. Federal government. According to the Archive's website, only 1 - 3 percent of the documents and materials created in the course of business are kept for legal and historical reasons.

But here, at the archives, you can discover a world of knowledge about a variety of historical topics about ordinary citizens. Established in 1934, the National Archives contain holdings dating as far back as 1775. And in the Internet age, the Archives also maintains electronic records. Imagine the possibilities!

The Archives aren't all housed in Washington, D.C. The nation is divided into nine regions, and these regional facilities house valuable records from the territory it represents. Additionally, each regional facility contains holdings for certain Federal agencies. Documents are stored in temperature-controlled storage areas. Preserving these precious documents is a primary objective. Visitors can observe records, and strict handling regulations are enforced.

Last October, I visited the Southeast Region Archive, located in Morrow, Georgia. Here, records from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee are stored.

While touring the immense facility, I made a personal discovery: all 24 million original WWI draft cards remain in existence at this Archives location. My grandfather served in this war, and I knew I wanted a copy to share with my family.

The process of retrieving the record was simple: I filled out an online form, paid the $5 fee, and within 48 hours, I received a digital copy, complete with my grandfather's signature. It's such a powerful feeling to hold that piece of family history!

In the lobby of the Southeast Archives, learn firsthand about our nation's history. Over 500 quality facsimiles of regional holdings show the paths of the famous and infamous. It's a breathtaking look of the history that defines us as a nation.

The Southeast facility offers these original records:

  • Draft cards. All Word War I draft registration cards are here. Word War II , Korea, and Vietnam-era draft cards for the states covered by the Southeast region can be found here.
  • Microfilm resources. Census records, passenger arrival, Freedmen's Bureau, Native American records and documents exist on microfilm and can be viewed on site.
  • Military Service and Pension Records. A great source for genealogical information, pension applications and payment records are available on microfilm.
  • Naturalization Records. Find the records of immigrants who applied for American citizenship. The earliest records date from 1790.
  • Slave Manifests. Any ship transporting slaves were required to present a manifest listing the names of slaves on board. Records include a slave's name, sex, age, and height. The person who shipped the slaves and the party purchasing the slaves are also listed on the records. Unfortunately, the last names of the slaves are not included on the manifests.
  • Tennessee Valley Authority. Relocation files for families and cemeteries reside here. Want to look at photographs of the agricultural and natural resource practices? You'll find them here.

The possibilities for story ideas from information housed at the Archives is endless. Check out this untapped resource and watch history come to life.

For additional information, check out the Archives site. If you're interested in items stored at the Morrow, Georgia, facility, visit the National Archives Southeast Region website.


LuAnn Schindler said...

Thanks, Alison. I've found so many unique sources from the Archives. I was amazed at the facility in Morrow. So many stories to tell!

Anonymous said...

Hey Alison - thanks for this very informative post. I'm going to share it with my writing students and blog readers.

Mary in MN said...

When I googled my grandfather, I found a digitized version of a history of the 88th Division in "The World War," which is what WWI was called prior to 1939. My grandfather's name was listed in Company B of the 313th Supply Train. He was drafted off the football field at the University of Minnesota. How wonderful it would be to have a copy of his draft card!

LuAnn Schindler said...

What an interesting account! Can you imagine being in the midst of a game and being told you're going to fight for your country?

Definitely visit the Southeast Region Archive webpage and get a copy of the draft card. You will not regret it!

I had my grandfather's framed and gave it to my dad for Christmas. He said it was one of the best presents he's ever received! I had tears!

Unknown said...

LuAnn: Thanks so much for the fantastic report on your visit to the National Archives at Atlanta! It's truly amazing how seemingly "impersonal Federal records" touch our lives and provide a connection to many generations of family. -- Jim McSweeney, Regional Administrator - National Archives at Atlanta (Morrow, GA)

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