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“The Documents”

In celebration of American Archives Month, the National Archives is teaming up with the Academy of American Poets. Throughout the month we’ll be publishing original poems inspired by the holdings of the National Archives. To view the poets performing their original work, visit the National Archives YouTube Channel. 

Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, 2014. <br> (Photo by Jeff Reed)

Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, 2014.
(Photo by Jeff Reed)

Today’s poem, “The Documents” by Terence Winch, was inspired by his visit to the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

The National Archives collects, preserves, and makes available the official documents created by the U.S. Government. These records help us claim our rights and entitlements as citizens; they help us hold our elected officials accountable for their actions; and they help document our history as a nation.

The National Archives Museum offers visitors many opportunities to view and interpret our government’s records.

In the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, visitors can be inspired by our nation’s founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights, which are on permanent display.

In the Rubenstein Gallery, visitors can explore the “Records of Rights” exhibit to learn how Americans sought to fulfill the promises our founding documents or see a rare copy of the Magna Carta.

Or, walk through the Public Vaults exhibit for a behind-the-scenes look at the original documents housed in stacks and vaults of the National Archives.

Not in Washington? The National Archives has over 40 locations nationwide—visit our website to plan your trip.

The Documents

By Terence Winch

The Documents are weeping, fading,
fearing the worst.

They are the messages
that keep coming.
They are promises, dreams, hymns,
i.o.u.’s. Proclamations.
Declarations.

They are word-flags.
Language
security blankets.

You could wrap yourself
in their giant pages.

They want to tell us who we are
or who we should want to be.

They are sails made of speech.

You could navigate
the vessel of your inner life
with their words propelling you along to the horizon.

The Documents tell their stories
over and over, even when you’re asleep,
even when the dark government temple
where they are entombed has shut
down for the night. The Documents never
tire, never shut down. They never expire.

They keep up their endless arguments,
hoping to be heard. Take heart, they insist.
Resist your worst impulses. Fight on,
even against invincible power. Listen
to what we have to tell you, they say, ancient,
faint, yet stronger than a wall ten miles thick.


Virtual Genealogy Fair, October 28–30, 2014

Learn Genealogy from the Comfort of Your Own Home: The 2014 Virtual Genealogy Fair, October 2830, 2014

Today’s post comes from Rebecca K. Sharp, Archives Specialist at the National Archives in Washington, DC. 

Why did the chicken need glasses? Find out by tuning into "Patently Amazing: Finding Your Family in Patent Records" at 3:00 PM EDT on Thursday, October 30, 2014.   (National Archives Identifier 7460045)

Why did the chicken need glasses? Find out by tuning into “Patently Amazing: Finding Your Family in Patent Records” at 3 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Thursday, October 30.
(National Archives Identifier 7460045)

Was your ancestor a drayman (cart driver), a hod carrier (a laborer who carried supplies to stone masons or bricklayers), a huckster (peddler), an ostler (a groom or stable hand), or a spinster (an unmarried woman)?

Discover the answers to these questions and much more through genealogical research.

Whether you are beginning your research or are an experienced genealogist, tune in to the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Virtual Genealogy Fair.

This three-day online event will be held October 2830. It’s free, and registration is not needed. Real-time captioning will be available for all sessions through Streamtext.

Our speakers include staff from NARA research facilities nationwide highlighting the holdings of the National Archives at Atlanta, Georgia; Boston, Massachusetts; College Park, Maryland; Denver, Colorado; Fort Worth, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; and Washington, DC.

Guest speakers include the Historian from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and representatives from genealogical websites.

When Saying “I Do”… Find out more on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at Noon EDT.

“When Saying ‘I Do’… “: Find out more on Tuesday, October 28,  at noon (Eastern Time). (Image from the Library of Congress)

We will have 17 lectures on a variety of topics including: an introduction to Federal records of a genealogical interest; how to preserve family records; NARA’s “Researching American Indians and Alaska Natives” web pages; NARA’s Access to Archival Databases; citizenship records; land records; patent records; military records; documenting aliens during times of war; Freedom of Information Act requests for FBI case files; and genealogical websites.

Participants will be able to submit questions via Twitter using #genfair2014.

Since we have a very tight schedule, the speaker may not be able to answer all of the questions during the allotted 10-minute Q & A session. Please send any remaining questions to inquire@nara.gov.

We will be updating the 2014 Virtual Genealogy Fair website leading up to and after the fair.

When a speaker grants us permission, we will post handouts, PowerPoint slides, and links to the archived video of the lecture on this website. Archived footage of the lectures will be available on the fair’s website by the end of November.

Mark your calendars for October 28-30!

NARA Genie Fair flyer

 


Three Mathew Brady Photographs

In celebration of American Archives Month, the National Archives is teaming up with the Academy of American Poets. Throughout the month we’ll be publishing original poems inspired by the holdings of the National Archives. To view the poets performing their original work, visit the National Archives YouTube Channel. 

Confederate dead behind stone wall. The 6th. Maine Inf. penetrated the Confederate lines at this point. Fredericksburg, VA, 1863. (National Archives Identifier 524930)

Confederate dead behind stone wall. The 6th. Maine Inf. penetrated the Confederate lines at this point. Fredericksburg, VA, 1863. (National Archives Identifier 524930)

Today we have three poems by Eric Pankey, who was inspired by Mathew Brady’s Civil War–era photographs.

Noted photographer Mathew Brady and his associates produced several thousand photographs of battlefields, towns, and people affected by the Civil War.

Among the various scenes the photographers captured were these haunting images related to the Battle of Chancellorsville.

The Battle of Chancellorsville took place between April 30 and May 6, 1863, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. The battle saw Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s 60,000 men face Union Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac, who had more than double in force.

Despite an unlikely Confederate victory, the Confederates sustained heavy losses.

Brady shocked many people when he displayed images of dead soldiers from the battle of Antietam the previous year. Americans were unaccustomed to seeing the reality of war.

Although many photos in the National Archives are attributed to Brady, many were taken by others under his supervision. When Brady published photographs from his collection, he credited them with his own name whether or not he actually took the photograph.

The National Archives has digitized over 6,000 photographs of Civil War–era personalities and scenes taken by Mathew Brady and his associates. These images can be viewed in our online catalog and on our Flickr page.

THREE MATHEW BRADY PHOTGRAPHS

by Eric Pankey

1. CONFEDERATE DEAD BEHIND A STONE WALL AT FREDERICKSBURG, VIRGINIA

Where the glass negative broke:
A silky, liquid black,
Like spilled scrivener’s ink,
Pools in the print’s margin.

: :

Mouth gone slack, eyes upward,
Face glazed with blood, the man—
Lifeless, slumped, and tangled
In a tarp—looks for God.

: :

Two leafless trees hold up
A scratched sky’s leaden weight.
Autumn? Winter? No wind
To sway the upright trees.

: :

Such a long exposure
To affix the fallen,
(Staged or happened upon,)
Abandoned to this ditch.

Wilderness, near Chancellorsville, Virginia, 1963. (National Archives Identifier 524447)

Wilderness, near Chancellorsville, Virginia, 1963. (National Archives Identifier 524447)

 

2.WILDERNESS, NEAR CHANCELLORSVILLE, VIRGINIA

It is a slow process:
fallen and standing trees,
Propped, bent, a clutter of intersections—

All moss- and lichen-ridden,
woodpecker pecked,
Bored by grubs, antler-scraped, bark rubbed free—

Hard to tell from the decay
the living from the dead,
The dead from the almost dead—

A tree—
horizontal across the creek,
Uprooted when a flash flood cut the cut-bank—

Still leaves, blossoms, bears fruit.
Without a buttress,

A long dead sycamore remains upright.

 

Burying Confederate dead, Fredericksburg, VA, 1863. (National Archives Identifier 524749)

Burying Confederate dead, Fredericksburg, VA, 1863. (National Archives Identifier 524749)

 

3. BURYING THE CONFEDERATE DEAD AT FREDERICKSBURG, VIRGINIA

Jesus said, Let the dead bury the dead.

Two caskets and five or six canvas-
Covered bodies wait beside a trench
Three black men have spent all day digging.

Given their druthers, they’d obey scripture.


Making Room for Records

Continuing our celebration of American Archives month, today’s post comes from Christina James, intern in the National Archives History Office.

Photograph of the Inner Court of Archives Building, 12/21/1935. (National Archives Identifier: 7820485) This inner courtyard was filled in shortly after the construction of the National Archives Building to increase the building’s storage capacity.

Photograph of the Inner Court of Archives Building, 12/21/1935. (National Archives Identifier: 7820485)
This inner courtyard was filled in shortly after the construction of the National Archives Building to increase the building’s storage capacity.

Since it opened and began accepting records in 1935, the National Archives has had to face the issue of space. Housing the records of the Federal Government is no small task, even when only 1-3 percent of the government’s records are held in perpetuity.

In the decades since its establishment, the National Archives has addressed its storage needs in a number of ways, some more effective than others.

The National Archives first confronted the growing mountain of records it faced by increasing storage space at the National Archives Building. The building’s architect, John Russell Pope had designed the building to have an interior courtyard, which could be converted to storage place at some point.

This courtyard was almost immediately filled in to expand the building’s stack area and nearly double the building’s storage space. This addition to the building was completed in 1937, but again in the late 1960s, the National Archives Building reached its storage capacity.

Photograph of Veterans Bureau Records in Stack Areas 06/12/1936. (National Archives Identifier: 7820633) The records of the Veterans Bureau were among the first groups of records to be transferred to the National Archives. At the time this photo was taken, the National Archives had accessioned 58,800 cubic feet of records, mostly from the Veterans Bureau and the U.S. Food Administration.

Photograph of Veterans Bureau Records in Stack Areas, 06/12/1936. (National Archives Identifier: 7820633) The records of the Veterans Bureau were among the first groups of records to be transferred to the National Archives. At the time this photo was taken, the National Archives had accessioned 58,800 cubic feet of records, mostly from the Veterans Bureau and the U.S. Food Administration.

During its time under the General Services Administration and prior to its more recent expansions, the National Archives was pressed for space and resorted to storing records in an old department store building in downtown Washington.

Beginning in 1976, the National Archives rented the old Lansburgh’s Department Store building, just a block from the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

The Archives paid an annual rent of $171,600 for 65,000 square feet on three of the building’s floors. Among the thousands of records kept in the old department store were documents dating back to the first Congress.

The building was in astonishingly poor condition. The Washington Post reported in August 1979 that “holes between the floors . . . made it impossible to regulate temperature and humidity around the clock, controls that are vital to preserving old and crumbing documents.”

Photograph of Washington National Records Center Stack Area with Employee Servicing Records, ca. 1968. (National Archives Identifier: 4477179) The Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland is one of the largest Federal Record Centers in the National Archives and Records Administration.

Photograph of Washington National Records Center Stack Area with Employee Servicing Records, ca. 1968. (National Archives Identifier: 4477179)
The Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland is one of the largest Federal Record Centers in the National Archives and Records Administration.

Despite requests for funds to repair the building, the General Services Administration did not comply. In 1979 the Lansburgh building was deemed a fire hazard by the Public Building Service, and the General Services Administration ordered the National Archives to immediately vacate the facility.

The records in the old Lansburgh Department Store were split up and relocated to the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland, and the main National Archives Building for temporary storage.

In the 1970s, as the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation was working to improve and revitalize the Pennsylvania Avenue Historic Site, a new idea to increase archival storage space was proposed—expand underground.

The 1974 Pennsylvania Avenue Plan suggested that by building an underground repository in the space below these buildings, the National Archives could gain an additional million square feet of storage.

While the Pennsylvania Avenue Plan resulted in widened sidewalks, lighting and landscaping improvements, and new business and residential space for the area, the underground repository was never built.

In 1994, a new National Archives building in College Park, Maryland (Archives II) was completed to provide further space for the National Archives’ ever-growing holdings.

Caves in Lee's Summit before shelving was installed.

Caves in Lee’s Summit before shelving was installed.

The National Archives and Records Administration’s first underground facility opened in August 1997. This facility at Lee’s Summit, in the Kansas City area, is housed in an underground limestone cave.

Since then, the National Archives has opened three other underground repositories. These facilities have provided millions of cubic feet of storage. Additionally, the cool temperatures of an underground cave are perfect for storing records and reduce air conditioning expenses.


“A Carpapalooza: An American Anthem”

In celebration of American Archives Month, the National Archives is teaming up with the Academy of American Poets. Throughout the month we’ll be publishing original poems inspired by the holdings of the National Archives. To view the poets performing their original works, visit the National Archives YouTube Channel. 

Poster, "Eat the Carp!" 1911. (National Archives Identifier 5710027)

Poster, “Eat the Carp!”
1911. (National Archives Identifier 5710027)

Today’s poem, “A Carpapalooza: An American Anthem” by Regie Cabico, was inspired by documents from the National Archives exhibit “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam.”

The exhibit is currently traveling, and you can still see highlights online.

Using original documents from the nationwide holdings of the National Archives, the exhibit explored the Government’s efforts to inspire, influence, and control what Americans eat and the unexpected consequences, dismal failures, and life-saving successes of those efforts.

For example, this 1911 Bureau of Fisheries poster encouraged Americans to eat carp—a fish that was introduced to American waters in 1877 and quickly proliferated.

Documents like these trace the origins of government programs and legislation aimed at ensuring that the American food supply is ample, safe, and nutritious. They also reflect the effects the Government has had on our food choices and preferences.

Sometimes comic and sometimes tragic, the records reveal the evolution of our beliefs and feelings about food.

A Carpapalooza: An American Anthem (Excerpt)

by Regie Cabico

I can write about colonialism,
Disney, riots and inoculations.
Centuries of American history

before me: Pocahontas’ bust,
Rosa Parks arrest records,
Elvis Presley meeting Nixon,

but with an hour to go before
recording a poem, i am
in the Starbucks struggling

with the most profound piece
of literature in the archives.
Eat The Carp. The Bureau

of Fisheries urges Americans
to Eat The Carp. This resilient
variety of fish that lolled

the tea gardens of Japan &
became the staple for gefilte
to Jews is 43 million pounds

strong at the turn of the dawn
of the 20th century. We were
to eat carp croquettes,

jelly and caviar. Before there were
Mcnuggets, there was the Carp.
These oversized gold fish

that multiplied from Carolina
to California with the force
of horseless carriages pounding

through our streams. I was going
to write haikus to the Carp.
Neruda like odes to the Carp.

Howl Allen Ginsberg style
to the Carp. Create a Jackson
Pollock Splatter of concrete

poetry all over our marbled
Capital City to the Carp. I even
wanted to write a Filipino riddle

to the Carp with lemon grass
and soy sauce. Ultimately,
this poem was supposed to be

a carpe diem poem to the carp,
to live and roam the continent free
as the carp. So seize the carp, roast the carp,
till the carp fisheries are lit in flames
becoming us into a new dawn
Oh Lord, give me carp, the power
to go on and pay my student loans
and find a boyfriend on ok cupid.
Give me carp crispy-fried in Crisco
Roasted and well done. Oh Lord
serve me a sweltering sausage of carp,
with sriracha and mustard
on a whole wheat bun