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Tag: records

One fire, 5 days, and 381 men

Today’s post comes from Sara Holmes, supervisory preservation specialist at the National Archives in St. Louis. (The images below are from the National Archives at St. Louis, with a special thank you to Capt. Dave Dubowski of the Spanish Lake Fire Department and the late Chief Bob Palmer of Mehlville Fire Department.)

What happened after midnight on July 12, 1973, changed everything for the National Archives in St. Louis.

The fire was first sighted outside of 9700 Page Avenue. Minutes later, the first team arrived at the sixth floor of the building, only to be forced to retreat as their masks began to melt on their faces.

The Military Personal Records Center (MPR)—now known as the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC)—was a huge building. Hailed as an architectural wonder when it was built in 1956, the building was 1,596,332 square feet, second only to the Pentagon in size at the time. Two NFL regulation football fields would fit comfortably within each of its six floors with room to spare. It had no sprinklers in the records storage areas and few firewalls in the building. Ultimately, it was a recipe for disaster.

Response to the fire was immediate. The North Central County Fire Alarm System logged the first alarm from the Olivette Fire Department at 0016:15 (15 seconds after 12:16 a.m), with a second call for … [ Read all ]

Keeping It All Together: Paper Fasteners at the National Archives

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

In my reflective moments, I think about what has kept me here at the National Archives for all this time. It couldn’t be the bone-wearying monotony of shuffling heavy cartons of records from here to there, or the tedium of changing out old information systems and learning the vagaries of new ones. No, there’s something else that gets me in the door every morning. Fasteners.

You wouldn’t think that something so trivial would hold my attention for any length of time. And yet, paper fasteners play such a vital role in our daily lives here. Consider: when researchers open boxes of records, they will see the telltale signs—the double round holes centered at the tops of the documents, the pinprick perforations in the corners. And many fasteners are still doing their duty among the records now.

It is a canon of archival preservation that fasteners are the devil’s work; capable of doing lasting and disfiguring damage to their host’s integrity, they must be removed, and forthwith. And so they are. Textual processing staff at all National Archives facilities do this every day. Perhaps gazillions of the little buggers get the boot each year; here are some Acco fasteners awaiting  their fate.

My fellow staff like to collect the unusual … [ Read all ]

It’s why I do what I do

Today’s blog post in honor of Memorial Day comes from Michael Pierce, preservation technician at the National Archives at Saint Louis.

It’s called “the Forgotten War.” But like any conflict, the Korean War is always remembered by the men and women who fought in it, and by their families.

The Preservation Lab at St. Louis occasionally get requests from JPAC (the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) for information from records of men who went missing in Korea and other places. Our lab deals primarily with records that were damaged in the 1973 fire at our old facility in St. Louis. Millions of Official Military Personnel Files from the Army and Air Force were destroyed, or heavily damaged, by fire, smoke, and water.

Sometimes, the requested record is part of that registry. We clean the record, make copies of the necessary documents, and send them on. Normally, we don’t hear anything about the results of our efforts.

I’m always telling my fellow technicians that we’re the “unsung heroes” of the National Archives at Saint Louis. Everyone else gets the accolades and the thank-you letters, while we work in the background, quietly doing our little bit, then moving along to the next file.

However, Scott Levins, the Director of the National Personnel Records Center, recently received a letter of thanks from the folks at JPAC, mentioning the names … [ Read all ]

A warning from the Surgeon General about air conditioning

Rick Blondo, management and program analyst at the National Archives, reflects on the logistics of maintaining records in the sweltering humidity that is summer in Washington, DC.

Summer in Washington can be a wilting experience for tourists and locals alike, but not so for the holdings maintained in the National Archives.

The National Archives was one of the first buildings in Washington with air conditioning. The building was designed in the 1930s to safeguard the records of the United States in an environment suited to that purpose.

The vault-like structure included an air conditioning system that could maintain 70 degrees in winter and 80 degrees in summer throughout the entire building. Relative humidity was kept at 55 percent in stacks and 45 percent in workrooms.

The holdings collected in the stacks would be cool, but officials wondered if the relatively cool air elsewhere in the building would pose a health problem to staff.

Louis A. Simon, the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the National Archives, asked the Surgeon General to provide an opinion about whether exposure to conditioned air (and also a high amount of artificial lighting) posed a health risk to those who would work in the building.

The Surgeon General, H.S. Cumming, determined that “during certain extremely hot days, the workers in the Archives Building will complain about the atmospheric conditions if the … [ Read all ]

Get ready for the Genealogy Fair!

Only 9 days left until the seventh annual Genealogy Fair! The fair is free and open to the public, and will take place at the National Archives building in Washington, DC. The Archivist will cut the ribbon at 9 a.m. on April 20 to open the fair.

Need an introduction to genealogy? There’s a session April 20 at 9.30 a.m.

Interested in researching headstone records for military veterans? That’s April 20 at 3 pm.

Looking for African American ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War? Come to the lecture on Thursday April 21 at 2 p.m.

What about the 1940 census? We’ll see you on Thursday April 21 at 2 p.m.

And this is just a small sample of the many lectures–by National Archives staff and expert speakers–going on over the two days of the Fair. You can check out the complete schedule on the Genealogy Fair website.

There will also be guest exhibitors to help you extend your genealogical research out of Federal records, so make sure you visit their booths in the big tent in front of the entrance.

This year will also feature the Female Re-enactors of Distinction: African American Ladies of the Civil War (FREED) who will be walking around the fair in character and in costume.

And, of course, you can check out the Archives Shop, which … [ Read all ]