The National Archives at Philadelphia

Family History Research
at the National Archives at Philadelphia

Records Available

Who were my ancestors? Where did they live? What did they do? Do I have missing family? These are questions genealogists hope to answer by using the records at the National Archives at Philadelphia to research their family.

The National Archives at Philadelphia offers many records useful anyone researching their family history, such as:

Selected finding aids, including a comprehensive guide to archival records, are available by mail and the NARA web site.

More information about researching family history at the National Archives is provided on NARA's Genealogy Page

Census Records

The Constitution requires that the Federal Government count the population every ten years to determine the number of Representatives each state sends to Congress. The National Archives at Philadelphia facility has the microfilm for the Federal population censuses for all states from 1790 to 1930. The archives facility also has a comprehensive selection of indexes.

Census records provide basic facts about your ancestors and reveal clues to finding other records in the National Archives. Early censuses provide the name of the head of the household and the number of occupants. Later censuses reveal the names of each family member as well as age, marital status, occupation, state or country of birth, year of immigration, and year of naturalization.

Ship's Passenger Lists

In an effort to protect immigrants and encourage travel to the United States, the Federal Government required passenger lists beginning in 1820. Since then, over 55 million people have immigrated to the U.S.

The National Archives at Philadelphia has microfilm of the ship's passenger lists for the following ports:

  • Baltimore, MD: Indexes 1820-1952, Passenger Lists 1820-1948
  • Philadelphia, PA: Indexes 1800-1948, Passenger Lists 1800-1945
  • Atlantic and Gulf Ports (small ports): Index 1820-1874, Passenger Lists 1820-1873
  • New York (Ellis Island): Index only 1897-1943
  • Galveston, TX: Indexes 1896-1951, Passenger Lists 1896-1951
  • Providence, RI: Index only 1911-1954
  • St. Albans, VT (Canadian entries): Indexes 1895-1952, Passenger Lists 1929-1949

Ship's passenger lists from the 19th century document a traveler's name, age, occupation, destination, and country of origin. Late 19th century and 20th century passenger lists may include the traveler's place of birth, assets, health, last foreign residence, the name of a relative in the home town, information about previous journeys to the U.S., and the final U.S. destination.

Naturalization Records

Immigrants become U.S. citizens through naturalization. Upon meeting residency requirements, immigrants petition the courts for citizenship and take an oath of allegiance. Under former laws, immigrants could petition for citizenship in Federal, state, or county courts.

The National Archives at Philadelphia has the naturalization records for the Federal courts in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia for the following time periods:

Delaware: Wilmington, 1797-1991.

Maryland: Baltimore, 1792-1972.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, 1790-1991; Pittsburgh, 1820-1979; Erie, 1940-1972; Scranton, 1901-1990; Wilkes-Barre, 1943-1972; Williamsport, 1909-1913; and Harrisburg, 1911-1917.

Virginia: Alexandria, 1909-1981; Norfolk, 1851-1992; Richmond, 1870-1990 (with gaps); Abingdon, 1913-1949; Big Stone Gap, 1914-1944; Charlottesville, 1910-1957; Danville, 1907-1966; and Roanoke (1906-1990.

West Virginia: Clarksburg, 1904-1951; Elkins, 1926-1956, 1970-1980; Fairmont, 1944-1974; Phillipi, 1910-1925; Wheeling, 1844-1875, 1910-1978; and Charleston, 1906-1929.

Early naturalization records, from the 1790 through 1906, typically provide an immigrant's name and country of origin. In 1906, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization standardized the naturalization process and began to require more detail on the naturalization forms.

The courts usually filed petitions in numerical order by petition number. You can begin your search for the petition number with the courts' indexes to naturalization records. These indexes list, in alphabetical order, the names of all people naturalized in a particular court. For each petitioner the index provides the petition number assigned to an immigrant's Petition for Naturalization.

For information about requesting naturalization records, see the Records Request Process below.

Military Service Records

The National Archives at Philadelphia has a selection of microfilm related to military service such as the microfilm for the Revolutionary War soldiers and pension and bounty land warrants issued to veterans of that war, including all States and name indexes. The archives facility also has the microfilm for the World War I Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The archives facility has the original records of the World War II Fourth Enumeration Draft Registration Cards for men between April 1877 to February 1897 for Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

For World War I draft records, reseachers must visit the National Archives at Philadelphia facility in person or contact the National Archives at Atlanta.

For information about requesting World War II, Fourth Enumeration Draft cards for men born between 1877-1897, see the Records Request Process below.

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Records Request Process

The public may visit the archives facility in person, or contact us by mail, telephone, fax, mail, or e-mail.

Contact Information

National Archives
14700 Townsend Road
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19154-1096

Telephone: (215) 606-0100
Fax: (215) 606-0111

In your correspondence, please include your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail.

For naturalization records, please include the name of the naturalized citizen, court or city where the naturalization occurred, approximate date of the naturalization or immigration, country or place of birth, date of birth, name of spouse, and names of children.

For World War II, Fourth Enumeration Draft cards for men born between 1877-1897, please include the name of the registrant, place of residence in 1942, date of birth, place of birth, place of employment, and the name of the next-of-kin.

Visitors to the Archives Facility

The public may visit the archives in person. Visitors should call in advance to verify that records related to their research are available. We will confirm the availability of records and schedule an appointment.

Children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult.

To use archival records, visitors must present a NARA researcher identification card. Applicants must show official identification with a photograph, such as a driver's license, passport, school, or business ID. Applicants must complete a form providing their name, address, telephone number, and a brief description of their research.

Please allow several minutes to complete the registration process. NARA researcher ID cards are valid for 1 year. They may be renewed.


The Archives facilty has self-service paper copiers and self-service microfilm copiers. It also provides a copying service. Staff may restrict copying if the records are fragile or have other limitations.

Fees for photocopying:

  • Self-service paper copies, $0.25 per page
  • Self-service microfilm copies, $0.60 per page
  • Staff-made copies, $0.80 per page with $20.00 minimum
  • Certification of copies, $15.00
  • Naturalization records, $10.00

We accept cash, money order, personal check (payable to the National Archives Trust Fund), and credit cards.

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272