Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SDGS 9 October Seminar Summary - Part 1: National Archives

The October 9th San Diego Genealogical Society Seminar at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Mission Valley (in San Diego) promised presentations on “Hidden Treasures in the National Archives and How to Find Them.” Kerry Bartels, a NARA Archives Specialist at the Riverside Branch of the National Archives (23123 Cajalco Road, Perris CA 92570, 951-956-2000) delivered on that promise in two morning sessions.

Peter Drinkwater, an employee of Footnote.com (a commercial Linden, Utah company that has partnered with NARA to provide digitized images and indexes of NARA material) discussed using www.Footnote.com to find digitized documents on their website in two afternoon sessions.

Kerry Bartels stated that he became a genealogist before he was an Archivist, so he understands the need for documents. His goal at his NARA branch is to make the Archives useful to genealogists. He noted that each regional branch holds original records from the region and has microfilms for records from other regions. Some statistics about the Archives:

• 10 billion paper documents (57 times around the Earth at the equator)
• 20 million photos
• 200,000 data files
• 30 to 40 billion electronic files

He stated that there are more than 3,000 microfilm publications (about 1.5% of all data files), and only 475 data files are digitized and available on their website. Genealogists use only about 5% of the NARA records, and most researchers don’t know that the other records exist.

The Archives website has a Genealogy Gateway page (www.archives.gov/genealogy/) that links to all of the services available for genealogical research. The “Big 5” resources are Census, Military, Land, Immigration and Naturalization records, but the Archives has many more databases available.

A Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States is available in book format (check local libraries), or information can be obtained on specific topics at http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/. The Records Catalog is organized in five levels:

• Record Group (e.g., RG85 is the Immigration and Naturalization Service)
• Administrative Sub-Group (e.g. 85.3 - Passenger Arrival Records, 1882-1957)
• Record Series (e.g. 85.3.1 - Passenger arrival lists by ship)
• File Folder (e.g., John Johnson in the Record Series)
• Item Number (a paper in John Johnson’s file folder)

The items in the file folders may be on microfilm, and may be digitized, but almost all Archived records are not on microfilm or digitized. Each item and file folder has an ARC Identifier Number.

The Online Research Tools and Finding aids page is at (http://www.archives.gov/research/tools/) on the Genealogy Gateway. Kerry demonstrated using the Microfilm Catalog, the Archival Research Catalog (ARC, descriptions of NARA’s nationwide holdings), and the Access to Archival Data (AAD, indexed information on the Archives website). The microfilms available from digitization partners such as Ancestry.com and Footnote.com are listed at http://www.archives.gov/digitization/digitized-by-partners.html.

The audience learned quite a bit from Kerry Bartels presentation, performed entirely on the Internet using the NARA website to show capabilities, including finding and displaying the examples in the syllabus. The 22 page syllabus included images of his examples.

My major takeaway from the morning presentations was that there are many hidden gems in the National Archives holdings, and that very few researchers know about them.  However, the system for finding and accessing specific records is very complex.

Kerry Bartels can be reached via email at the National Archives - Riverside Branch at riverside.archives@nara.gov.

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