Records at the National Archives are organized in the most general sense within “Record Groups” – official categories that each have a number. (Quick – what’s the RG# for the Immigration and Naturalization Service? If you said 85 you are officially a pathetic “Genealogy Geek!” Keep those kind of facts to yourself if you want to be invited to any more parties, “GG”.)
Seeing a list of Record Groups that includes such headings as Selective Service System, or Bureau of Land Management, a “GG” might see possibilities for draft records or land entry files. But what about the American Battle Monuments Commission or War Relocation Authority? And why bother with General Records of the Department of State? Well, only because they are gonna Rock Your Socks! Seriously. Aren’t you so excited I plan to show you exactly why, and exactly how to find them? Of course you are.
Today I thought I would provide a brief tutorial for finding some hidden gems at the National Archives. We will explore several Record Groups over the next few weeks so as not to overwhelm you with awesomeness in one huge blog. Follow these basic steps and you will be the most popular person at your next genealogy society social:
1. At the NARA website homepage click on “Research our Records, then click on “Guide to Federal Records”
2. Click on “Record Groups by Topic Clusters”
3. Select the “Genealogical” topic link
4. View the Record Groups within the Genealogical topic cluster and make a note of the RG# you would like to explore. Today we will explore RG#117, American Battle Monuments Commission.
5. Return to the “Guide to Federal Records” page and enter the RG# into the box. Then click GO.
6. Make a note of the cool textual records, photos, and lithographs that could provide evidence of a veteran ancestor’s death and burial on foreign soil, or even in the U.S.:
Once you have drilled down to the collection and series that interests you, locate them by searching the OPA (Online Public Access), ARC (Archival Research Catalog), or click on “Overview of Records Locations” for general help.
The OPA will search all the web pages on the NARA site, and will eventually replace ARC, but for now it is good to check both. These search tools can be a little complicated, but just keep plugging away and be creative – Ninja genealogy I like to call it.
If you are lucky you will find the exact repository and record identifier for the record you seek, and from there can either visit the repository or contact an archivist there to find the record for you. If you are extra lucky the record will be in your nearest NARA Regional Archive. If not, you can always hire a local researcher if you like.
National Archives research is not for the faint of heart, nor for searching on a hunch. However, there are times when you just need to GO FOR IT! (That’s what comes from blogging while watching an exciting basketball game – a little genealogy adrenaline rush!)
Future blogs will explore other interesting collections and series found within various Record Groups in the National Archives. Hey, it’s basketball season and that means some quality time on the sofa with my laptop and ESPN.