Despite the plethora of online genealogical resources available today, not all information is online, and sometimes essential and valuable bits of data still can be found only in archives and libraries. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Library of Congress are unparalleled resources for genealogists who planned to attend the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) conference in Washington, DC, in August 2011. In preparation for the event, the conference co-host, the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington (JGSGW), has updated its Capital Collections, a guide to genealogist resources in the U.S. capital region. Following are excerpts from the chapter on NARA with assistance from reference archivist Constance Potter and Elizabeth Lourie.
National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives administers a nationwide network of facilities serving both the public and federal agencies. Records held by the Archives are housed in two locations in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area: Archives I, the main building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and Archives II in College Park, Maryland.
This federal agency is the repository for permanent, non-current federal records. It does not hold vital records (birth, marriage, death). Records are arranged by federal agency and come in many forms, such as loose papers, bound volumes, motion picture films, videotapes, sound recordings, still photographs, maps, microfilm and microfiche, and electronic records.
Key to using records held by the National Archives is to determine how one’s ancestor interacted with the Federal government. The importance of this approach cannot be too highly emphasized. Archives’ records for the Federal government are vast in scope, but they may hold the answer to a specific genealogical question. Assume, for example, that an ancestor was a U.S. postmaster. The Archives maintains a list of all United States postmasters, which can provide places and dates of service back to the founding of the nation. Does family lore hold that an ancestor served in the Civil War? Verify that by looking at compiled military service records and pension files. Did an ancestor serve as a U.S. marshal, judge, federal legislator, or hold any other federal job? Did he/she send a letter to the State, Treasury, or Justice Department, or to the Immigration and Naturalization Service? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” the possibility is strong that records exist.
For a comprehensive listing of the types of records held by the National Archives, consult the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States (third edition) or the website at http://www.archives.gov/genealogists/familyhistorians. Consultants are available at the Archives to answer questions about which records to use and where to order them.
The cashier’s office, off the ground floor lobby, offers finding aids and books for sale. Free pamphlets may be found inside the Microfilm Research Room entrance. Copy machines use vending machine-dispensed cards. They take a $1 bill to start and, thereafter, will accept $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills. Paper-to-paper copies (available in the Central Research Room and the library) cost 15 cents each; microfilm-to-paper copies (available near the microfilm readers) cost 30 cents each.Researchers enter the Archives I building on the Pennsylvania Avenue side and go through security upon arrival and departure. A government-issued photo ID must be presented for admission, after which one signs in and receives a visitor’s badge. Laptops are permitted, but must be registered with the security staff. A researcher card is required to use original records in the Central Research Room. A government-issued ID must be presented in order to get a researcher’s card which can be obtained from “Registration” in the ground floor Microfilm Research Room. Children must be age 14 or older for admission to the research rooms, although exceptions may be made for children doing research on special projects for school or for family history.
Requests for Records. To view desired records, researchers must complete a “pull slip” available in the Research Room. After a wait of up to two hours, records are brought to Room 203 for use. Four requests per pull period (10 a.m., 11a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.) are pulled for each researcher Monday through Friday. They are held in Room 203 for three working days and possibly longer by special request.
Major Genealogical Records at Archives I
Major genealogical records housed at Archives I include the U.S. Census 1790–1930 passenger ship arrival records, military records up to but not including World War I, naturalization records, public land records, bounty land warrants, and records from various federal agencies. Most are on microfilm.
Census Records. Federal censuses, taken every ten years beginning in 1790, are opened for public inspection after 72 years. Censuses for 1930 and for all previous years are open now, but the 1890 census was almost totally destroyed by a fire in the Department of Commerce building in 1921. To access the census, researchers must know the state in which a subject lived in the particular census year. Depending on the year, census records provide information such as name of household members, age, occupation, state or country of birth, year of marriage, year of immigration, citizenship status, and more. Clues from the census often lead to immigration and naturalization records.
Soundex, a coded surname index based on sound rather than spelling, applies to all 1880 households with children
|Passenger Arrival Records|
|Atlantic, Gulf Coast and Great Lakes Ports||1820–1874||M334||1820–1873||M575|
|Canadian Border (St. Albans)||1895–1952||M1461M1462M1463||1895–1954||M1464M1465|
|Galveston and sub–ports, TX||1896–1951||M1357M1358||1896–1951||M1359|
|Key West, FL||None||1898–1945||T940|
|New Bedford, MA||1902–1954||T522||1902–1943||T944|
|New York||1820–1846 1897–1948||M261T519T621||1820–1857||M261T715|
|Seattle, Port Townsend,Tacoma, WA||None||1890–1957||M1383M1484|
|Philadelphia records also include|
|M1500||Records of the Special Board of Inquiry, Dist. 4 (Philadelphia), Immigration and Naturalization Service||1893–1909||18 rolls|
age 10 or younger and to all 1900 and 1920 censuses. For 1910, Soundex and Miracode, a variation, apply to 21 states; a street index (M1283) is available for 39 cities. For 1930, the Soundex applies only to the 10 southern states and parts of Kentucky and West Virginia. See http://1930 census.archives.gov/ to help locate a specific enumeration district. For unindexed states, see also Enumeration District Maps for the Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930 (M1930) and Index to Selected City Streets and Enumeration Districts, 1930 Census (M1931). In addition, Steven Morse at www.stevemorse.org has provided two helpful tools. The “1910–1940 Census ED Finder” allows one to enter an address and receive the 1910 or 1930 ED for that address. Morse also provides a separate tool called “1920/1930 ED Converter” that converts 1930 EDs to their 1920 equivalents (and vice versa). To use the Soundex effectively, search for a name under every possible spelling; census takers may have not clearly understood an immigrant ancestor’s foreign accent or language. For more information on Archives census records, consult www.archives.gov/genealogy/census.
Each National Archives microfilm has a name and a number (such as M1066 or T1288). Location registers found in the Microfilm Research Room show the location (cabinet and drawer) of each microfilm publication. The most important genealogical records in the Microfilm Research Room are the Passenger Arrival Records.
Passenger Arrival Records. Passenger arrival records, 1820–1957, supply information about immigrants to the United States. Some records are customs lists (1820 to ca. 1891); others are immigration lists (1891–1957). For genealogical purposes they are essentially the same, only the amount of information provided varies. More recent manifests provide additional information. Lists normally include the following information for each passenger: name, age, gender, occupation, country of embarkation, and country of destination. Most Jews came to the United States through the Port of New York, but other important entry points included Baltimore, Boston, Galveston, and Philadelphia. After 1895, many Jewish immigrants came across the Canadian border. Indexes to ship passenger lists for some ports exist, but for each, the time period they cover differs.
For a complete listing of the availability of passenger arrival records and indexes, see www.archives.gov/genealogy/topics and select “Immigration Records.” In person at the Archives, consult Immigrant and Passenger Arrivals: A
|M1848||Indexes*||1850–1852, 1860–1880, 1881, 1906–1923|
|M1490||Passport Applications||1906–March 31, 1925|
|*NOTE: ContentsofM1848:Index, 1850–52, rolls 1–28, duplicates the informationinM1371, rolls 2–4Index, 1860–1880, rolls 28–29, partially duplicates the information inM1371, rolls 3–4. Researchers should useM1371, rolls 3–4, instead of this.Index, 1881, roll 29 duplicates the information on M1371, roll 15
Index, 1906–1923, on rolls 30–52; Index to Passport Extensions, 1917–1920, on rolls 53–57.
The U. S. Department of State Passport Services Office in downtown Washington, D.C., maintains U.S. passport information on individuals for the period from 1925 to the present. For instructions on obtaining passport information from the U. S. Department of State, see: http://travel.state.gov/passport/services/ copies/copies_872.html.
Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications, which lists the microfilm records for ship’s arrivals. This, as well as other National Archives microfilm catalogs, is available for sale. Researchers also may consult sources such as Germans to America and Migration from the Russian Empire on CD-ROM in the Archives Library.
A copy of the Morton Allan Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals, which lists immigrant ship arrivals (1890–1930) by date, port, and steamship company, is located at the staff desk inside the microfilm room.
To find a given person in the ship records, one must know the approximate date of arrival and port of entry. Look up the name in the microfilm index, find the list filed by port, name of ship, and date. For further discussion of passenger ship records at the Archives, consult www.archives.gov/genealogy/immigration/index.html. If a person immigrated to the U.S. at a time for which no index exists, the best source of a date of arrival is a naturalization record, although dates are not always correct. The 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses provide the year of immigration, and the 1920 census provides the year of naturalization, but these dates, too, may be incorrect.
Naturalization Records. Prior to 1906, a person could naturalize in any U.S. court—city, county, state, or federal. Most naturalizations were filed in the county court where the person resided. From 1906 onward, naturalizations were performed in federal courts only—with rare exceptions.
The Regional Archives serving the state in which the federal court is located holds federal naturalization records. Archives I, however, does have microfilm copies of some naturalization indexes and some federal court records. These microfilm rolls include declarations of intent, naturalization petitions, citizenship records, and indexes before federal and/or state courts.
Additional films on a number of states currently are available only at certain regional archives. LDS (Mormon) Family History Centers have all of the films held by National Archives. For a comprehensive discussion of the naturalization process, see www.archives.gov/genealogy/ naturalization/naturalization.html.
Passport Records. Passport records include regular and emergency passport applications, 1795–1925. Overseas travel by 19th-century, native-born and naturalized American citizens was fairly common, but passports were not required for re-entry to the U.S. until World War I. Many early-20th-century immigrants returned to Europe for visits in the 1920s and 1930s. These passports are especially valuable sources of European birthplaces. The applications may give the exact town of birth and date of immigration to the U.S. and sometimes even the name of the ship.
JGSGW has indexed Jewish names on the Emergency Passport Applications for the period 1914–25, issued by U.S. consular officials to wives and children of naturalized citizens. The microfilm index is available at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Records. The Subject Index to Correspondence and Case Files of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1903–52 (T458) consists of 31 rolls of microfilm of index cards organized alphabetically by subject. Roll 16 includes topics related to “Hebrew,” Roll 18, “Jewish” and “Judaism,” Roll 17, “Israel,” and Roll 19, “Palestine.”
Military Records. Military records held at Archives I include service records and pension files for military service personnel from the American Revolution up to, but not including, World War I. Later military records are held at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
To request military service records, fill out a Reference Service Slip in the Microfilm Research Room. For more information read “An Overview of Records at the National Archives Relating to Military Service,” by Trevor K. Plante, available online at www.archives.govpublications/prologue /2002/fall/military-records-overview.html. Request copies online or by mail. See www.archives.gov/veterans.
Online Services. The Library edition of Ancestry.com, a commercial subscription service, may be accessed without charge from the Archives. It has created name indexes linked to images of the corresponding census page for the entire Federal census. Other information accessible through
|War orTimeframe||Detail||Microfilm #|
|Revolutionary War||Name index to Compiled Service Records||M860|
|War of 1812||Index to Pension Application FilesMilitary Bounty Land Warrants||M313M848(Index: Roll 1)|
|Civil War||Union Compiled Service Records, indexed by stateUnion Pensions, see General Pension Index Consolidated index for Confederate Compiled Service Records, arranged by state||T288M253|
|World War I||Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918Boundary Maps of Selected Draft Registration Boards (arranged geographically) helps to find draft boards inheavily-populated areas.Index to Naturalizations of WWI soldiers||M1509M1860M1952|
|1907–1933||Veterans Administration Payment Pension Card, alpha index, ordered by name of invalid (disabled veteran) or widow||M850|
this service includes World War I and II draft registration cards, World War II army enlistment records, Civil War pension index and service records, and passenger lists for a variety of U.S. ports.
HeritageQuest Online is another commercial service that is available without charge at the Archives. These services sometimes overlap and are not mutually exclusive.
To make the best use of these services one needs to bring to the Archives as much information as possible about the person or persons being researched.
NARA’s Access to Archival Databases (AAD), available online from any computer at www.archives.gov/aad, offers a selection of NARA’s electronic records from its holdings. One can type a name into the search box, click on a broad category (e.g. genealogy/personal history: civilians), specific subject (e.g. labor unions), or time span.
Archives II, College Park, Maryland
Materials of interest to the Jewish genealogist at the National Archives in College Park include U.S. State Department files; Foreign Records Seized; World War II War Crimes Records; Records of Former Russian Agencies; cartographic collection; motion pictures, sound and video records; still pictures; and records of many federal agencies.
The National Archives is organized differently than a library and does not function like one. Records belong to the federal government and are arranged by record groups. Each record group (RG) comprises the records of a major Federal government entity, usually a department, bureau, or independent agency. The number assigned to a record group reflects the order in which it was established by NARA.
The Archival Research Catalogue, NARA’s online catalog, is at www.archives.gov/research/arc/. Following are some Archives II materials of special interest to genealogists.
- U.S. Department of State (RG59) 1789–1963 (except microfilmed passport applications) (1795–1925) and indexes (1810–1923) which remain at Archives I downtown. These records include the Central Decimal Files of the Department of State, 1789–1963. Records of genealogical value include records of births, marriages, and deaths of U.S. citizens abroad; settlement of the foreign estates of U.S. citizens who died abroad; claims by U.S. citizens against foreign governments; lists of U.S. citizens temporarily or permanently residing abroad; and correspondence regarding U.S. citizens residing abroad. For more information on this record group, consult www.archives. gov/research/state-dept/rg-59-office-files.html.
The Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington has created an index of Jews included in some of the National Archives files. These formerly were available on microfiche, but they have been re-keyed and digitized. The index files have been donated to JewishGen, and they are accessible from the JGSGW website. They include:
- Index of Jewish Applicants for Emergency U.S. passports 1915–24 (RG84)
- Index to Foreign Service Post Records of the U.S. Department of State for Consular Posts: Jerusalem (1857–1935), Jaffa (1867–1917), and Haifa (1872–1917) (RG84)
- Index to U.S. Consular Post, Emergency Passport Applications, Bucharest, Romania (RG84)Index to Jewish Names in Protection of Interest in Austria Hungary, 1910–29 (RG59)
- Index to Jewish Names in Protection of Interest in Palestine, 1910–29 (RG59)
- Captured German Records (RG242) on microfilm (in German) include:
– Name index of Jews whose German nationality was annulled by the Nazi regime (Berlin Documents Center T355)
– Documents concerning Jews in the Berlin Documents Center (T457)
– Death books of camps liberated by American forces: Matthausen Death Books 1939–45 (T990), Dachau list of inmates, Flossenberg, and Buchenwald
– Prussian Mobilization Records, 1866–1918 (M962)
– Arolsen (Red Cross Tracing Service) films (also available at HRI)
- Gestapo transport lists 9 rolls
- Dachau 11 rolls
- Buchenwald 55 rolls
- Natzweiler 25 rolls
- Matthausen 19 rolls
- Sandbostel (Bremerforde) 1 roll
- Bergen-Belsen 1 roll
- Constanz (Feldkirch) 2 rolls
- Gross Rosen (Breslau) 1 roll
- Middlebau (Songerhausen) 1 roll
- Jewish Agency for Palestine 2 rolls
Other captured records concern Belarus, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The collection also contains lists prepared by Allied personnel of people who were in the camps at the time of liberation. For reference service on these records, contact Tim Mulligan and Robin Cookson at Archives ll, 301-713-7250 (ext. 370). Both are knowledgeable about the German records.
- Records of the All-Union (Russian) Communist Party (Smolensk Archives), 1917–41, T87, RG242. For details see Guide to the Records of the Smolensk Oblast of the All-Union Communist Party of the Soviet Union 1917-1941, Archives document indexed by subject and document number.
- Russian Consular Records 1862–1922, RG261, (M1486). Indexed by the JGSGW are files of correspondence, passports, proof of citizenship, and much more from various Russian consular offices. They include correspondence between early-20th-century immigrants from Russia, often Jewish, and official representatives of the Czarist government. They often include considerable personal information such as date and place of birth, parents’ names, data on education, marriage, arrival in the United States, addresses lived in the United States, births of children, and more. To access these records, first consult Index and Catalog to the Russian Consular Records, by Sallyann Sack and Suzan Wynne, microfilm M1710.11 For more information on this record group, see www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/261.html.
- Records of Imperial Russian Consulates in Canada, 1898–1922 (M1742). For more information on this record group, The Philadelphia branch of the National Archives has created two finding aides for the records of the Philadelphia Russian Consulate, rolls 3–36 of M1486: a two-page “instructions to use Russian Consular Records,” and a detailed, 11-page roll listing. See www.archives.gov/research/microfilm/m1742.pdf.
- Records of Foreign Service posts of the Department of State (RG84) includes records of genealogical value such as births, marriages, and deaths of American citizens; records of passports issued or visas; records about the disposal of property, the settlement of estates, and the protection of American citizens; court records of certain posts where ministers and consuls exercised judicial authority over American citizens; records of services performed for American ships and seamen; lists of seamen shipped, discharged or deceased; and records of claims made by American citizens against foreign governments. Records of diplomatic posts cover the period 1788–1945; records of consular posts cover the period 1790–1949.
This branch owns more than two million World War II German aerial reconnaissance maps of Europe that have great detail (RG373) and 1:50,000 scale maps of Europe and elsewhere, 1950s and later (Army Map Service, RG77). Copies may be made, either inexpensive photocopies or very high-quality high-gloss photographs. Also available are maps of regions enclosed in Foreign Service inspection reports, 1906 and 1939; most are base maps on which further information has been annotated such as significant buildings, harbor facilities, and business districts. Cartographic reference telephone is 301-837-3200.
Still Picture Branch
The National Archives began to acquire still pictures from federal agencies soon after its establishment in 1934. Today, the Still Picture Branch holds approximately six million photographs and graphics from more than 170 departments, agencies, and bureaus. The branch also maintains a small collection of donated materials, such as the New York Times Paris Bureau photographs prior to World War II (RG 306.2). For a complete list of the holdings of the Still Pictures Branch consult www.archives.gov/dc-metro/college-park/photographs-dc.html. Still pictures reference telephone is 301-837-0561.
Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch
The index of holdings includes entries for Holocaust, Israel, and the Jews. The motion picture, sound, and video holdings include official U.S. government records of permanent value and donated materials obtained from various sources including films by the armed forces, civilians, and commercial organizations. For information about the holdings of the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch, consult www.archives.gov/dc-metro/college-park/visit-motion- picture-room.html. Reference telephone: 301-837-0526.
Archives II can be reached by automobile, by Metro, or by free shuttle bus from Archives I. (on the hour between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. This is a staff bus, and researchers can board only when space is available.) Free researcher shuttle bus runs on Saturdays between the Prince George’s Plaza Metrorail Green Line station and the College Park building at the Belcrest Road side at Kiss ‘n Ride sign.
The only access to the public and the staff-only areas of the National Archives at College Park is through doors in the main lobby, where an “airport-style” security procedure has been instituted. All visitors are required to pass through magnetometers. All packages, briefcases, and personal belongings must pass through an x-ray scanner. Laptop computers, cameras, and scanners are allowed. Photo identification is required. Archives II has a public cafeteria.
Records are retrieved from the stacks by completing a “pull slip” with the identifying information. Pull times for records are Monday-Friday: 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday an additional pull is done at 3:30 p.m. No records are retrieved from the stacks on Saturday or in the evening.
Paper-to-paper copies cost 15 cents per page; microfilm-to-paper copies are 30 cents per page. Bring dollar bills or debit cards for copying.