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What is NARA?

As I indicated in Lesson Five, a rich hunting ground for Ancestry Hunters is the Federal Archives. The official name is the National Archives and Records Administration or NARA. NARA acquires, preserves, and makes available for research many wonderful sources for genealogists. The most commonly used by researchers are census, military, passenger and immigration lists, and naturalization records.

According to the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, published in 1995 by NARA, and for sale through the U.S. Government Printing Office, NARA has custody over:

  • 300,000 rolls of microfilm
  • 1.7 million cubic feet of textual records
  • 2.2 million maps and charts
  • 2.8 architectural and engineering plans
  • 9.2 million aerial photographs
  • 123,000 motion picture reels
  • 33,000 video recordings
  • 178,000 sound recordings
  • 7,000 computer data sets
  • 7.4 million still pictures

The available records date from colonial times to the present. There are many other records available through the field branches of the National Archives. The address, telephone number, times and holdings of your local branch federal archives may be located in the book by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, entitled The Archives: A Guide to the National Archives Field Branches (Salt Lake City; Ancestry, 1988).

Today's researchers can study the holdings of NARA by searching the Internet at the NARA Internet site. We are going to take advantage of the Internet in this lesson on using census and other records of the National Archives; but first let's learn why these records are so important to us.

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