Guide to Federal Records

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The Record Group Concept

NARA arranges its holdings according to the archival principle of provenance. This principle provides that records be
  • attributed to the agency that created or maintained them and
  • arranged thereunder as they were filed when in active use.

In the National Archives, application of the principle of provenance takes the form of numbered record groups, with each record group comprising the records of a major government entity, usually a bureau or an independent agency. For example, National Archives Record Group 4 is Records of the U.S. Food Administration.

Most record groups include records of any predecessors of the organization named in the title of the record group. A few record groups combine the records of several small or short-lived agencies having an administrative or functional relationship with each other. An example of this type of record group is Record Group 76, Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations.

The number assigned to a record group reflects the order in which it was established by the National Archives.

Within a record group, the records of a government agency are organized into series. Each series is a set of documents arranged according to the creating office's filing system or otherwise kept together by the creating office because they
  • relate to a particular subject or function,
  • result from the same activity,
  • document a specific kind of transaction,
  • take a particular physical form, or
  • have some other relationship arising out of their creation, receipt, or use.

Excerpted from: Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
3 volumes, 2428 pages.

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