Posted in National Archives, Research tips

  How to File a FOIA request with the National Archives

File clerk at the FBI
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed in 1966, and allows anyone to request records from U.S. federal government agencies.  To obtain information from local or state governments a request must be made according to state public records laws.

What does this mean for a genealogist?  Well, think about the ways your ancestors might have interacted with federal government agencies throughout their lives as employees, citizens, or aliens, and then go for it. Did they work for a railroad or the WPA? Were they part of the CCC? Were they an alien living on U.S. soil during WWII? Did they have an FBI file? You’d be surprised where a file on your ancestor might show up.  Not all requests for federal records require an FOIA form.  Some you can simply order through the National Archives, so look into it before you make the effort.

NARA’s website has a research guide explaining how to use FOIA for genealogy records, but it is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the kinds of agencies your ancestor might have interacted with.  You might find that the Guide to Federal Records, an online list of official federal Record Groups, triggers some ideas for you.  Also, here is the link to a 2010 article in Family Tree Magazine titled, “Under Surveillance”  which explores ways a genealogist might use FOIA.

To get you started, the National Archives recently posted a handy video on FOIA, so I am sharing it here:

Author:

I am an Accredited Genealogist® professional living in California. I have been researching and teaching since 1988.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s