Conducting Research in the National Archives

National Archives and Records Administration

The National Archives and Records Administration is the country’s record keeper. The most valuable business conducted by the Federal Government is stored at the Archives forever. Most of the information can be found on the National Archives website, but there are several important things to be aware of before visiting the Archives.

These records are available at two locations in the Washington, DC area. The most well-known location is at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. This location is home to the National Archives Museum, which displays the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. This location is often referred to as NARA I. The other location is in College Park, Maryland, which houses a significantly larger collection of records than the downtown location. The College Park facility is referred to as NARA II. NARA I and NARA II house difference classes of archival material (see below in “Buildings”).

Getting There

There are several ways to get to NARA I. The closest Metrorail (subway) stop is right across the street from the entrance at Archives/Navy Memorial on the yellow/green lines. When exiting the station, go up the escalator and take a left towards the corner of 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Walk across the street and take a right. The entrance will be on your left. Several Metrobus lines also service the Metrobus stop across the street. The stop is in front of the escalators to the Archives/Navy Memorial station. See Metro’s website or call 202-637-7000. Please note that there is no parking at the building available for researchers. There are several parking garages nearby. Metered parking is available in the area but be advised that there is a two hour limit to this parking.

The NARA II site at College Park is located just outside of Washington, DC. It is not directly on a Metrorail line and is easiest accessed by driving. From I-495, take exit 28B for New Hampshire Avenue. Once headed south on New Hampshire Avenue, take a left on the second light onto Adelphi Road. Follow Adelphi Road until you see the large green entrance sign for the Archives. Turn at the entrance. Please note that there is limited parking at the NARA II facility. Parking opens up at 8:00 am, even though the facility does not open up until 9:00 am. Upon arrival, the security officer will check identification of all passengers in the vehicle before directing your vehicle to park in the garage. As parking is limited, the recommended access to the facility is by public transportation. The Metrobus stop is located in front of the NARA II entrance. The R3 bus serves Metrorail green line stations at Greenbelt, Prince George’s Plaza, and Fort Totten. You can connect to the yellow line at Fort Totten. The C8 serves Metrorail red line stations at White Flint, Glenmont, and College Park. The R3 does not run on Saturdays and the C8 only runs between 9 am and 5 pm. For further information, please visit Metro’s website or call. 202-637-7000.

If you need to visit both locations on the same day, there is a free staff shuttle bus between NARA I and NARA II. The bus departs from both locations on the hour between 8 am and 5 pm. This is primarily a bus intended for staff and researchers may use it on a space available basis.

Prepare In Advance

Be sure to take the time to prepare for your visit. NARA can seem rather overwhelming initially, so plan to manage your time accordingly. Before you visit it is important to follow several steps so you will not be disappointed. Certain records are available online. Some copies of records may be available for purchase online. These records are most often family history, military service, and court records. To determine whether the records are at NARA I or NARA II, check the online catalog. It is recommended when you visit for the first time that you try to arrive early in the morning on weekdays, especially in the middle of the week when the facilities can be especially busy.

Obtaining your Research Card

Upon arriving, you will need a researcher identification card. To obtain a research card, you must have a photo ID. Acceptable IDs include driver’s licenses and passports. You will need to complete a short form giving your full name, permanent address, telephone number, and brief description of your proposed research. You will then view a short research orientation presentation explaining how to handle records safely, and basic research procedures, responsibilities, and rules. You can find a preview of the presentation here. Expect this process to take twenty minutes. Your research card will be valid for one year. You may renew your research card up to thirty days before the expiration date. If your card has already expired, please bring it with you for renewal. Your card must be presented upon each research visit. When you leave, expect to have your belongings inspected.

Buildings

The National Archives Building in Washington DC, NARA I, houses textual and microfilm records relating to genealogy, American Indians, pre-World War II military and naval-maritime matters, the New Deal, the District of Columbia, the Federal Courts, and Congress. Military and civil records dating from before 1900 can also be found at NARA I (civil and military records from after 1900 can be found at NARA II – see below). It is open 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday. Upon entering the building, proceed to the Research Center on the first floor. At the Research Center, you will have access to genealogical consultation, the microfilm reading room, the Archives Library and Information Center, and consultation with an archivist. Pull times for records are weekdays at 10 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2 pm, and 3 pm. Paper and pencils are provided on arrival (pens and notebooks are not allowed). You may bring paper research notes, hand-held wallets, coin purses, personal computers, approved scanners, tape recorders, tape decks, and cameras. Briefcases, backpacks, purses, boxes, or other large containers are forbidden in research rooms. There are lockers available to store these items. They require a quarter, but it is refunded when the locker key is returned. Copies of most documents can be made on self-service copiers at a cost of twenty five cents per page. Microfilm to paper copies cost fifty cents per image. Before copying any textual records, researchers must show a staff member the original material they wish to duplicate. A debit card system is used to pay for self-service copies. You may use your research card as a debit card. Machines to add money are located in the research rooms. These machines only accept bills and credit cards. Unused money on your card cannot be refunded. Please note that personal copiers and auto-feed or hand-held scanners are not permitted. Research groups of ten or more are asked to notify genealogy staff well in advance of their scheduled trip. In addition, introductory lectures may be available for your group if requested at least two months in advance. Please contact the genealogy staff for more information at 202-357-5400 or at KYR@nara.gov.

The National Archives at College Park, Maryland, NARA II, holds significantly more records than NARA I. The hours and pull times for NARA II are the same as for NARA I. NARA II houses civilian and military records dating after 1900. The holdings of the Cartographical and Architectural Section house over fifteen million maps, charts, aerial photographs, architectural drawings, patents, and ship plans. In addition, the facility houses the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video unit and the Still Pictures unit, which has over eight million photographs and graphic images. The Nixon tapes also are available.  The Research Center has an extensive layout with Textual and Electronic Records on the second floor, the Library and Cartographical and Architectural Unit on the third floor, Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Unit and Microfilm Unit on the fourth floor, and Still Photograph Unit taking up the fifth floor. The rules regarding storage, copying, and note taking at NARA II are the same as NARA I.

Where to Eat and Where to Stay

NARA I has a café open between 8:00 am and 2:30 pm Monday through Friday. It is located in the basement of the building. Additional restaurants and eateries can be found within a few blocks of the building. NARA II has a full service cafeteria serving breakfast between 7 am and 9 am and lunch between 11 am and 2 pm. Due to the relative isolation of the NARA II site, the cafeteria is the most convenient place to eat.

NARA I is within walking distance of several hotels in downtown Washington. NARA II is located close to several hotels in the College Park area. A full list of places to stay can be found here. Long term housing information regarding NARA II can be found here. For stays of a few days to a few weeks, apartments, houses, and furnished rooms can also be found through online services such as VRBO, Home Away, and airbnb.