Site menu:





This year the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will host a Virtual Genealogy Fair on September 3–4, 2013. As part of the planned programming, the Virtual Fair will include introductory sessions on civilian and military records at NARA that are useful for genealogical research. Military service, of course, represents one of the major aspects of family history. From 1775 to the mid-20th century, the United States engaged in numerous military conflicts, both internally and against foreign foes. These wars were fought by the U.S. military establishment, including the Regular Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as by citizen volunteers in State and local militias called into Federal service. In the lecture “Introduction to Military Records at the National Archives,” Genealogy Specialist John Deeben will explain various records that document military service from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam.

Focusing primarily on research in the Washington, DC area, the “Introduction to Military Records” examines how NARA’s military holdings are divided into two main periods: “Old” Military (1775–1912) and “Modern” Military (World War I and later). The “Old Military” records cover Volunteer and Regular Army service from the Revolutionary War (1775–83) to the Philippine Insurrection (1899–1902), including border disputes (The Patriot War) and the Old Indian Wars (1784–1858). During this period, Volunteer and Regular service were documented very differently. Beginning in the 1890s, the War Department gathered or transcribed information about state volunteers from various wars, using records created during those conflicts such as muster and payrolls, hospital registers, and prisoner of war rolls. The end result was a “compiled” service file for each veteran that also contained other personal papers held by the War Department, including extra copies of enlistment and discharge papers, orders, subsistence accounts, and sometimes correspondence. For the Regular military (Army, Navy, and Marine Corps), however, the War Department maintained a variety of formal recruiting records, including the Army Register of Enlistments and Navy rendezvous reports. Regardless of the type of service (Regular or Volunteer), pension records from the Revolutionary War to the Philippine Insurrection provide additional information about the veterans’ service as well as his family.

“Modern” Military records generally cover service during the 20th century from World War I to the First Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) in 1991. The lecture explains the general availability of official military personnel folders at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis (the Virtual Fair will also include a more detailed lecture on the NPRC’s civilian and military holdings), but focuses specifically on the military unit and operational records for each 20th-century conflict that are available for research at College Park. If you know what regiment or division a relative served in during World War I or II, for example, you can learn about the activities those units engaged in during combat in such records as unit histories, war diaries, and operational and command reports. Unit histories from the Korean War and division and brigade records (but very few company-level records) for the Vietnam War are also available. As an added bonus, an overview of draft registration records from World War I to Vietnam is also included in the presentation. For a unique opportunity to learn how to research military service at the National Archives, tune in to “Introduction to Military Records” on day one of the fair, September 3!

Today’s post comes from Susan Burch of Middlebury College, with special thanks to the colleagues at NARA-Fort Worth and to the National Archives Regional Residency Fellowship.

Stories matter. As an historian of disability, race, ethnicity, and gender in the United States, I’ve been drawn to stories at the margins, perhaps more fittingly described as “the locked wards” of our past. My current book project explores the history of the people institutionalized at the Canton Asylum in South Dakota, the only federal psychiatric institution in the United States specifically for American Indians. Its first inmate entered Canton in 1902, and before it closed amid scandal in 1934, nearly 400 men, women, and children from 17 states and nearly 50 tribes inhabited its wards. To date, relatively few people know about the Canton Asylum or its community. In admittedly limited ways, my work attempts to restore those removed from their communities, and our historical frameworks, to the American story.

This black and white panoramic photograph shows the front of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (1899-1934). Narrow windows dot the four-story stone and brick building. A metal swing set stands in the front yard area; several people appear to be standing near the top steps of the front porch.

This black and white panoramic photograph shows the front of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (1899-1934). Narrow windows dot the four-story stone and brick building. A metal swing set stands in the front yard area; several people appear to be standing near the top steps of the front porch.

The history of the Canton Asylum is inextricably tied to larger stories of forced removals; the rise of Indian boarding schools as well as penal, medical, and disability institutions; eugenics; and contests over citizenship and American identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s also a deeply human story, marking generations of people on the inside and outside of the institution’s walls.

While incompleteness travels with histories of removal and dislocation, the individuals who lived these experiences were not themselves incomplete, or—and I use this term intentionally—invalid, because of their state of being removed. The in-between spaces of marginalized lived experiences, of dubious belongings, of sometimes difficult sources and historical repositories are locations of opportunity from which scholars can reconsider the past, the present, and our tellings of them.

These realities help illustrate why historical archives are so important.

“Doing history”

Historians depend on tangible sources, which makes projects about institutionalized Native Americans additionally challenging. But the Canton Asylum presents a unique—and complicated—learning opportunity; thousands of documents specifically about and by Asylum members, as well as materials generally related to the institution, are held at the National Archives. With generous support through the National Archives Regional Residency Fellowship, I was able to visit Fort Worth’s site, which yielded fascinating stories and thorny new questions. For example, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) records about several men and women who were removed to Canton shed light on their family relations and economic changes on the reservations, and sometimes revealed glimmers of their personalities. Other records described people whom BIA agents considered, but ultimately decided against, removing to Canton. Recognizing that many—but not all—paths led to Canton invites critical reflection. Why did some people get taken to Canton, but not others? Who decided this? And how did individuals’ forced removals impact their families’ lives?

Realizing that the Canton Asylum was but one location in a vast constellation of forced removals, I was particularly interested in visiting the Fort Worth NARA because of its unique location and sources. It houses records on the U.S. Public Service Hospital (later renamed the U.S. Narcotic Farm), which was located in Fort Worth. When Canton closed in 1934, some men and women were sent to Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC. Eight years later, in 1942, fifty-three members from this group were transferred to Fort Worth. How Fort Worth’s institution emerged, what it was like, and how it contributes to the longer story of the Canton community are questions I hope to answer.

United States Narcotic Farm, Fort Worth, TX; National Archives Identifier: 278157

United States Narcotic Farm, Fort Worth, TX; National Archives Identifier: 278157

Spending time in archives

I love spending time in archives. There’s an electric anticipation: what details, questions, and surprises await release from the stacks? Several times a day, NARA colleagues rolled out carts with my requested materials. Rows of boxes, some packed to capacity with onionskin paper sheets, held remnants of lifetimes, places, and cultures. Simultaneously daunting and enticing, the collection at Fort Worth took over my daily life for the week. Thankfully, helpful staff helped steer me towards materials I wouldn’t have located on my own, and shared in the excitement when I discovered those “aha” sources—the gems that answer a troubling question or that breathe humanity into a shadowed past. Recommendations for tasty places to eat and visit while in Fort Worth, in addition to a terrific tour of the facility, underscored the value of community that sustains this regional archive, and our broader work in history.

Many thanks to all the folks at NARA-Fort Worth for a great and productive experience.

After 10 years of providing online access to the National Archives’ holdings the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) is permanently retiring on August 15th.

You can still search descriptions and digital content using our Online Public Access search

Search for National Archives Records Online

Search for National Archives Records Online

Online Public Access contains all of the descriptions and digitized content that was in ARC.  Online Public Access also searches our web site,, and the web sites of the Presidential Libraries for information related to your search.  Your search results will be grouped into categories based upon the type of information we have that is relevant to your search:

  • Digital copies of records
  • Descriptions of records
  • Web pages on
  • Web pages on the Presidential Libraries’ websites

We will be sharing information and tips for using Online Public Access over the next few weeks here on NARAtions.  if you have any questions about using Online Public Access please leave a comment.

Fourth of July gathering at the home of Mayor Bob Fowler of Helen, Georgia, near Robertstown, after a holiday parade.


Ah, summer! Just the thought of it brings to mind ocean waves, picnics at the park, umbrellas by a poolside. And, of course, the 4th of July! Whether you’re barbecuing with a couple of friends  or taking a trip to the nation’s capital to see the museums and monuments, take a moment and dig through some history with us about the 4th of July.

That’s right—we’re reprising the Fourth on Foursquare! So look out for documents and photographs all celebrating Independence Day – from fireworks to cartoons to presidents. We’ll have a link to the document at each tip and location, so make sure to follow our Foursquare page tips to discover a little bit more about the 4th of July every day.

Today’s post comes from Victoria Blue, staff writer at the National Archives

Seven months after Hurricane Sandy swept over the Caribbean and up the Eastern seaboard of the United States, communities affected by this destructive storm are still working to rebuild their lives.

Today, we remember the past and present of the storm’s impact with Historypin’s newest project: “Hurricane Sandy: Record, Remember, Rebuild.” You can learn more about the project in Historypin’s video:

The Hurricane Sandy project is a shared online collection of local history as captured by individuals and cultural heritage institutions alike. Anyone can contribute images to the Historypin project to tell the story of their communities and neighborhoods before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy.

The National Archives contributed more than 30 digital images from our holdings to the Hurricane Sandy project.  These images document areas along the East Coast as they existed before the storm. Visit the project page to see images from our holdings pinned to their original locations on the map:

Hurricane Sandy project sreenshot

“The National Archives is proud to partner with Historypin for the Hurricane Sandy project. This project speaks to our mission of preserving records and making them available to the public,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero. “While the National Archives’s buildings generally fared well in the storm, we know that many did not. Our staff have reached out to state archivists, and worked with other agencies to coordinate records recovery operations. It’s critical that these chapters in our nation’s history, no matter how devastating, are not forgotten.”

Other collaborators include Google, the Metropolitan New York Library Council, the Society of American Archivists, and the American Association of State and Local History. Local libraries and historical societies also shared photos of Sandy and other hurricanes reaching back to 1938.

You can view the project, explore memories of Hurricane Sandy, and make your own photo contributions at

Subscribe to Email Updates