Research at the National Archives

Department of State Records
Central Files 1789-1906 (RG 59)

Records

During the period from 1789 to 1906, the records are divided into three main categories: Diplomatic Correspondence, Consular Correspondence, and Miscellaneous Correspondence. Each category is further divided into a number of series, or types, of records in which the documents are generally arranged by source or destination and thereunder chronologically by date sent.

Diplomatic Correspondence

The Diplomatic Correspondence is arranged by country in four primary series of records:

  • Department's instructions to U.S. Ministers and Ambassadors, 1785-1906:

    These records are available on two microfilm publications. The first is for diplomatic and consular instructions, 1791-1801, arranged chronologically (M-28, 5 rolls), and the second is for diplomatic instructions, 1801-1906, arranged by country (M-77, 175 rolls).

  • Diplomatic despatches, or reports, received in the Department of State, 1789-1906:

    These records are available on 42 separate microfilm publications, arranged by name of the country from which the reports came.

  • Notes from the Department to Foreign Legations and Embassies in Washington, 1793-1906:

    These records are available on one microfilm publication (M-99, 99 rolls), arranged by country. Some notes before 1804 are filed with the Diplomatic Instructions or the Domestic Letters.

  • Notes to the Department from Foreign Legations and Ministers and Embassies in Washington, 1789-1906:

    These records are available on 52 separate microfilm publications arranged by name of country with which the U.S. had diplomatic representation.

Consular Correspondence

The Consular Correspondence is arranged in four series of records:

  • Department's Instructions to U.S. Consuls, 1800-1906:

    These records are arranged in one large chronological file. The records for the period 1801-1834 are available on microfilm (M-78, 7 rolls). The records dating after 1834 have not been microfilmed. Instructions for the period 1789-1800 are found in the Diplomatic Instructions and in the Domestic Letters.

  • Consular despatches, or reports, received in the Department of State, 1789-1906:

    These records are arranged by the name of city in which the consulate was located and thereunder chronologically. There is a separate microfilm publication for each city in which the United States had consular representation.

  • Notes from the Department to Foreign Consuls in the United States, 1853-1906:

    These records, dating from 1853 to 1906, are arranged in one large chronological file. They are available on microfilm (M-663, 4 rolls). Notes sent before 1853 are found in the Domestic Letters and the Notes to Foreign Legations and Embassies.

  • Notes to the Department from Foreign Consuls in the United States, 1789-1906:

    These records, dating from 1789 to 1906, are arranged in one large chronological file. They are available on microfilm (M-664, 11 rolls).

Miscellaneous Correspondence

This category includes records that do not come under the headings of the diplomatic and consular records. Included is correspondence with other U.S. government agencies, Congress, and the public. The records are found in two series, each arranged chronologically.

  • Domestic Letters, 1784-1906:

    This series consists of copies of letters and other communications sent by the Department of State to persons other than U.S. and foreign diplomatic and consular officers although as noted above some pre-1853 communications to those officers are included. The records are available on microfilm (M-40, 171 rolls).

  • Miscellaneous Letters, 1789-1906:

    These are the letters and other communications received by the Department of State. They are available on microfilm (M-179, 1,310 rolls).

Finding Aids

  • Registers for diplomatic instructions and notes from the Department, 1870-1906, are on rolls 11-18 of M-17
  • Registers for diplomatic despatches and notes to the Department, 1870-1906 are on rolls 1-10 of M-17
  • Registers for consular despatches received, 1870-1906, are on rolls 19-44 of M-17
  • The registers for the Domestic Letters, 1802-1811, and 1840-1906, are on rolls 57-71 of M-17
  • The registers for the Miscellaneous Letters, 1860-1906, are on rolls 45-56 of M-17

Beginning with records for 1861, Foreign Relations of the United States can assist with locating documentation of interest.

Additional information on the Central File records for the 1789-1906 period is found in Part I of Inventory 15: Inventory of the General Records of the Department of State.

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