General Information Leaflet 71
The National Archives in the Nation's Capital –
Information for Researchers

Services for Offsite Researchers–Frequently Asked Questions

Can I conduct archival research if I am unable to visit NARA?

We are staffed to provide research support services, not research itself. The extent that we can support your research if you are unable to visit us is limited by three key factors, namely the nature of your research question, the precision of available finding aids, and the arrangement of the most relevant records.

When you contact us, we will do our best to address your needs by searching our finding aids for you. If your request is specific and the finding aids that cover possibly relevant records are detailed enough, we may be able to tell you that we have the exact item you need. If your request is broad or the finding aids that cover possibly relevant records are general, we may only be able to identify whole file systems or series that could relate to your topic, but not individual items. Sometimes our search of the finding aids will reveal no match at all. In all cases, we will inform you of the results of our search.

In many instances the complex nature of archival research does not lend itself to long distance navigation of finding aids and voluminous series of records. In these cases we may recommend that you identify someone who can conduct research for you in our research rooms. Good sources about experts in archival research are professional associations of historians and genealogists or the history departments of colleges and universities in the Washington, DC, area.

We also provide an on-line listing of independent researchers who perform research activities at our facilities on behalf of others, usually for appropriate compensation. The listing is sorted by facility, media type, and research topic, and is accessible on the research room page. Inclusion on the listing is not viewed or advertised as an endorsement by the National Archives and Records Administration. The listing is compiled and disseminated as a service to the public

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Can I get copies of records if I cannot visit?

If our review of our finding aids reveals that we have records of interest to your research topic, we will enclose information about how to order copies in our response to you.

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Do you provide forms for me to use to do my research?

We have forms for obtaining copies of specific genealogical records: military service records, pension files, census schedule listings, ship passenger arrival lists, land entry files, and Eastern Cherokee applications. Contact one of our Customer Service Centers or our Old Military and Civil Records . You may also request these forms online.

Tips for Successful Research

  • Do background reading on your intended subject, noting significant names, dates, events, and any evidence that Federal records may be used for further research.
  • Visit our web site,, for answers to many of the preliminary research-related questions you might have.
  • Write or call ahead so that you can properly plan your research visit.
  • Remember that our archives are permanently valuable organizational records that may reflect the workings of all three branches of the Federal Government.
  • Determine whether your topic can be searched in the National Archives and consider whether it falls within a Federal function or a specific entity of the Federal Government.
  • When you determine that the Federal Government produced documentation concerning your research interest, keep the likely time period(s) in mind, and what physical form(s) that documentation might take.

Remember that the Federal Government has almost no jurisdiction over state, local, or municipal activities, or over private enterprises, unless mandated by the Constitution. Therefore, we do not have discrete files of birth, marriage, divorce, death, or similar state and local level records.

Because the National Archives and Records Administration is truly a national system of records repositories, ask us about relevant records that may exist beyond the Washington, DC, area in a regional records services facility or a Presidential library.

During your research visit, keep good notes as to records consulted so that you can differentiate between multiple groups of records searched, and your steps can be retraced if necessary.

If you have questions, ask us. We are here to help you.

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General Information Leaflet 71 – 2001
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