Print out a copy of this page for taking notes while you follow the instructions.
Using record groups to begin your search for information about National Archives primary sources
National Archives primary sources are arranged by numbered record groups, with each group comprising the records of a major federal government entity. There are over 500 record groups.
- Begin by brainstorming a list of the federal agencies that might have created or received documents related to your topic. (Your preliminary research with secondary sources will be helpful.)
Write your list here:
( If you have no idea what agencies might have created such records but think that looking at a list of agencies might help, here is a list.)
- Determine the record group numbers for the agencies you listed in step A using the Alphabetical List. Write down the record group numbers here: ____________________________
Go back to the online Activity 1 page
- Go to the Guide to Federal Records and type one of the record group numbers that you listed in step B in the box to the left.
- Select "Go." The page that appears begins with a detailed description of your record group. It includes a history of the agency that created the described records, the size of the record group, the types of records in the group (textual, photographs, motion pictures, . . .), a list of existing finding aids, record groups related to yours, and the location of the actual records.
- Scroll down through the information and read for mention of your topic. If it sounds like something you might be able to use, scroll back up to the top of this section and answer the following questions:
- How many cubic feet of space do the records in this group occupy? (For your information, one cubic foot of records equals about 2,500 pages.) _________________________________________________
- What types of records are they? (textual, photographs, motion pictures, etc.)
- Do any finding aids exist? (Finding aids are tools that provide more detailed information about records than the broad descriptions in the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Finding aids include card catalogs, publications, and databases. Many finding aids are available only at the National Archives.)
___ Yes ___ No
If yes, what are their titles? _________________________________________________
(Check with your local library or the university library closest to you that has a government publications section. It is possible that some of the published finding aids may be found there.)
- What other record groups are related to yours? __________________________________
(You might check those record group descriptions for information on your topic, too. Just start with step C again.)
- Are your records found in the Washington, DC, area, in a regional records service facility, or in one of the Presidential libraries?
Click on the location of your records, and write down the following information:
Director's name: ____________________________
Telephone number: ____________________________
E-mail address: ____________________________
- Repeat steps C, D, and E for each record group you identified in step B.
- To locate and obtain copies of specific records that interest you, you must contact the National Archives facility that maintains the records you found listed in the record group descriptions. Contact the facility using the address you wrote down in step E5 above. Use our sample letter as a guide to compose your message.
You have successfully conducted a search using the record groups of the National Archives of the United States. Good for you!
There are other ways to search online for information about records at the National Archives. You can try:
Activity 2: Using the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States
Activity 3: Using the Archival Research Catalog (ARC)
Activity 4: Using the Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives
Activity 5: Using the Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives
Good luck with your project!
Activity Menu Page