While not exclusively for genealogy, the National Archives is a treasure trove of information which is used by genealogists nationwide. One can find many documents online, order microfiche or receive the records electronically via a PDF document. Some of the information is considered archival, meaning that it belongs in the public domain, while other information is classified (for national security) or can only be accessed by either the person named in the document or by next of kin.
Receiving information from the National Archives can be as simple as ordering online and paying for the copy fees or visiting one of their Federal Archive Centers. Researching onsite is free and the public is welcome to visit in normal business hours.
Not only can one access documents, it may be possible to order military medals and awards earned by one’s ancestor. (Different branches of the service vary on the cost or eligibility of reordering medals or awards.)
- Other information
Researching in the National Archives allows both the avid and casual genealogist access to the following records (among others):
- Military records
- Census records
- Native American records
- Passenger arrival records
- Historical records
- Land records
- Bankruptcy records
- Historical records
- Immigration and Naturalization records
- And much more
Additionally, this site has much information for genealogists such as:
- Forms and charts
- Genealogy blog
- Links to events/training
- Comprehensive listing of documents and an exclusive YouTube channel with hours of lectures and presentations given during the National Archives Genealogy Fair (2013)
- Informational articles for genealogists'
- PowerPoint presentation of how to research with the National Archives
One could quip about the fact that this is a government site and as such expect glitches. However, it runs quite smoothly. The learning curve for research is steeper than for the more friendly commercial sites. Ordering documents involves some knowledge of the proper forms to submit and can take up to 90 days for an initial quote for cost or update on your records.
Costs vary greatly for this site when having a federal employee research and duplicate documents for you.
While not a fault of the site itself, it should be noted that many Army and Army Air Force records were destroyed in a catastrophic fire in 1973. Millions of military records were lost in the conflagration.
The Bottom Line
Researching at the National Archives (on-site or online) can be a daunting task for a newbie genealogist. The sheer volume of records can be overwhelming as well as the red tape which may be required to access records. For those lucky enough to live close enough to visit a local National Archives Center, they will find that the staff there is extremely helpful.
The informational library and how to videos on YouTube are superior and could even be considered as a class on how to do genealogy online - specifically using the National Archives site.
Use of this site is recommended, but for those just starting out, it might be better to do so with some help from one who is experienced in its use. Certainly, it is advised to look at some of the many resources offered by the National Archives to help shorten the learning curve. Additionally, many of the records are available on other commercial sites which are easier to search than this one.