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The National Archives on the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

March 12, 2014, marks the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. For most of that time, the National Archives has had some online presence. In 1994, the National Archives started a pilot project to make information about the agency available electronically. The project used the “Gopher protocol” (a predecessor to the World Wide Web).

Through the agency’s gopher “CLIO”—in Greek mythology, Clio was the muse of history—users could access descriptions of National Archives facilities nationwide, information on agency holdings, publications and general information leaflets, and some Federal records regulations. Text-based information was accessed at; the original web address was The NARA in the web address comes from the full name of the agency: the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The National Archives in 1997

The National Archives in 1997

The  “NAIL Database” was the NARA Archival Information Locator—the  first online catalog prototype of the National Archives. In NAIL, online researchers could find collection descriptions and a limited number of digital images.

The NAIL database

The NAIL database

In 1999, underwent its first redesign. Among its notable features were direct links to the Presidential Libraries, the Federal Register, and the “Research Room”—the main entry point for researchers. A new search engine was also installed in 1999 to help users find what they needed in the online offerings.


Our website in 1999

On May 31, 2002, the website got a new look and a new domain name: Because the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, was closed from July 2001 through September 2003 as part of a major renovation, the National Archives added a number of online exhibits and high-quality images to during that time.

The website in 2005

The website in 2005

In 2002, the 1930 census was released (each census is released 72 years after being taken). To make searching the census easier, the National Archives added online finding aids for the 1930 census—although the actual census was released only on microfilm. In 2012, the entire 1940 census was made available online at

Also in 2002, the Archives replaced NAIL with the Archival Research Catalog (ARC). The standard search form was similar to NAIL with a few cosmetic changes. The advanced search form, however, had more sophisticated search capabilities than NAIL.

The ARC database

The ARC database

The next redesign of launched on July 20, 2005. These changes were based on online survey results, customer feedback, page visit statistics, and usability testing with genealogists, veterans, teachers, students, records managers, and the general public.

The most recent redesign came in the winter of 2010, making more user-friendly by streamlining navigation, improving  access to our holdings, simplifying the content, and updating the site with a new look.

Our current website

Our current website

One of the  most recent online developments came in August 2013. The National Archives retired ARC after 10 years of providing online access to NARA’s holdings. Researchers and staff are now able to search descriptions and digital content using the Online Public Access (OPA) at

In 2009, the National Archives ventured into the realm of social media by opening its first Facebook page. Now the National Archives routinely uses Facebook as well other social media tools like Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, and blogs—like this one—to connect with the public.

Tweet Up at the National Archives

On March 20, join us for a sneak peek at our new exhibit, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” before it opens to the public. Many of the documents have never been on display before.

You can be one of the first to see what will be this exhibit case!

You can be one of the first to see what will be in this exhibit case!

A limited number of lucky folks will get a tour at 1:30 p.m. from curator Jennifer Johnson and a special opportunity to take pictures of the exhibit (photography is otherwise banned in our exhibit spaces).

You can also join us beforehand for a brown-bag lunch at noon with the curator and graphic designer, who will demo our new free eGuide as well as talk about how our curators choose from thousands of documents to create an exhibit.

We’ve got limited space, so register now!

Signatures are personal. The act of signing can be as simple as a routine mark on a form, or it can be a stroke that changes many lives. Signatures can be an act of defiance or a symbol of thanks and friendship. “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” draws from the billions of government records at the National Archives to showcase a unique collection of signatures and tell the stories behind them.

See a patent created by Michael Jackson; a  loyalty oath signed by a Japanese American inside an internment camp; a 1938 letter from a Jewish tailor who wrote to President Roosevelt pleading for an escape from Budapest because of “political happenings”; an original “John Hancock” signature; some “signature” items of clothing, including a dress from First Lady Michelle Obama; and many more fascinating, original documents that reveal the power of the pen.

Want two free tickets to the Oscars?

Well, we can’t send you to Hollywood, but we can give you two reserved seats to our free film screenings starting on Wednesday, February 26!

The National Archives is hosting the 10th annual free screenings of the Academy Award nominees in four categories—Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject, Live Action Short Film, and Animated Short Film.

We’re giving away four sets of reserved tickets. You can choose the screening you would like to attend.

Just look for the hashtag #ArchivesOscar on Twitter, and answer the question! If we pick your reply (selected randomly), you’ll receive two reserved tickets for a screening.

You will have four opportunities to enter on Wednesday and Thursday. Good luck!

The screenings are presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in partnership with the Charles Guggenheim Center for the Documentary Film and the Foundation for the National Archives.

Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. No reservations are accepted. Free tickets are distributed at the Special Events entrance on Constitution Avenue, 60 minutes prior to start time. You must be present to receive a ticket. Theater doors open 30 minutes prior to start time. The saving of seats is strictly prohibited. Please note that some films may not be appropriate for general audiences.

Documentary Feature Nominees

Saturday, March 1, 7 p.m.
Dirty Wars
Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
(86 minutes; unrated)

Sunday, March 2, 4 p.m.
Cutie and the Boxer
Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
(82 minutes; rated R)

Live Action Short Film Nominees

Saturday, March 1, noon
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
Esteban Crespo
(24 minutes; unrated)

Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras
(30 minutes; unrated)

Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson
(23 minutes; unrated)

Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
Selma Vilhunen and Kirsikka Saari
(7 minutes; unrated)

The Voorman Problem
Mark Gill and Baldwin Li
(13 minutes; unrated)

Total Running time: 97 minutes.

Animated Short Film Nominees

Saturday, March 1, 3:30 p.m.
Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden
(13 minutes; unrated)

Get a Horse!
Lauren MacMullan and Dorothy McKim
(6 minutes; rated G)

Mr. Hublot
Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares
(12 minutes; unrated)

Shuhei Morita
(14 minutes; unrated)

Room on the Broom
Max Lang and Jan Lachauer
(26 minutes; unrated)

Total Running Time: 71 minutes.

Documentary Short Subject Nominees

Sunday, March 2, 11 a.m.
Jeffrey Karoff
(39 minutes; unrated)

Facing Fear
Jason Cohen
(23 minutes; unrated)

Karama Has No Walls
Sara Ishaq
(26 minutes; unrated)

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed
(38 minutes; unrated)

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
Edgar Barens
(40 minutes; unrated)

Total Running Time: 166 minutes

On Display: Record of the Kidnapping of Solomon Northup

The slave manifest of the brig Orleans, April 27, 1841 is on display from February 21 to March 30 in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Today’s post comes from curator Corinne Porter.

From the birth of the American republic to the abolition of slavery, kidnapping for sale into slavery was a constant threat to free black people in the United States. In 1841, Solomon Northup, a free-born African American from New York, was kidnapped by two white men and enslaved for 12 years in the deep South before he could prove his legal right to freedom. However, his liberation from bondage was exceptional—most enslaved free blacks never regained their freedom.

The slave manifest for the brig Orleans includes Solomon Northup, listed as Plat Hamilton, at number 33. (National Archives).

The slave manifest for the brig Orleans includes Solomon Northup, listed as Plat Hamilton, on line 33. (National Archives).

Abducting free blacks for sale into slavery was outlawed in most of the United States. However  uneven law enforcement, the marginal rights of free blacks, and mounting demand for slaves after the end of the transatlantic slave trade made kidnapping an attractive and potentially profitable prospect that encouraged the creation of a reverse underground railroad.

Kidnappers gave their victims aliases to hide their true identities. In his personal narrative, 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup recounts that he first heard the name he would be known by as a slave, “Plat Hamilton,” in New Orleans when it was called from this slave manifest (line 33) for the brig Orleans. Victims who insisted that they were free often faced severe beatings or even death.  Northup accepted his identity as “Plat” because “[He] was too costly a chattel to be lost . . . [and] knew well enough the slightest knowledge of [his] real character would consign [him] at once to the remotest depths of Slavery.”

Vera Williams, a direct descendent of Solomon Northup works at the National Archives. You can read her personal story or learn how she walked in the footsteps of her great-great-great-grandfather Solomon Northup.

Ansel Adams visits the National Archives

Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

A fellow named Ansel Adams visited the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, in 1941. Here’s a record–in pictures, of course!–of his visit.

Adams was at the National Archives to select and print images from the Mathew Brady collection (now in series 111-B and 111-BA) for use in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit “Photographs of the Civil War and the American Frontier,” which would open in March 1942.

Here are notes from Vernon D. Tate, head of the Division of Photographic Reproduction and Research, regarding the benefits of a visit by Ansel Adams:

From notebook "1942-43 Office Notes and Daily Log, Part 1"  in Record Group 64, P entry 32

From notebook “1942-43 Office Notes and Daily Log, Part 1″ in Record Group 64, P entry 32

Adams came to the National Archives Building on that same day, and the next:

From notebook "Uncurrent 1941-1942 Visitors Notes Etc"  in Record Group 64, P entry 32

From notebook “Uncurrent 1941-1942 Visitors Notes Etc” in Record Group 64, P entry 32

In September, he again visited, and printed his selections in the Archives’ photo lab. Here is the lab where he worked:

Photographic Laboratory, ca. 1938 ( 64-NA-301)

Read the MOMA’s press release and catalog for the exhibit here.

Original caption reads: “Visit to the National Archives by the famous American photographer, Ansel Adams, to look at some of his work in the Still Picture Branch, September 10, 1979″ (64-MISC-1-5)

This photo of Adams is from a later visit. Original caption reads: “Visit to the National Archives by the famous American photographer, Ansel Adams, to look at some of his work in the Still Picture Branch, September 10, 1979″ (64-MISC-1-5)