Frequently Asked Questions about the JFK Assassination Records Collection
- I've heard that some of the records are sealed? Why? When will they be opened to the public for examination for my research?
- How can I get a copy of the Warren Commission Report?
- What do you know about the "backyard photographs"?
- Can I see the rifle or other artifacts?
- Can I see Warren Commission records that are designated as commission exhibits (CE's) or FBI exhibits but are not artifacts?
- I have seen the autopsy photographs and x-rays in books. Did NARA make them available?
- Can I access the Autopsy Report?
- What happened to the Presidential Limousine that carried President Kennedy on the day he was assassinated?
- What is an "assassination-related" document?
- The JFK Assassination Collection Database: What is it?
- What's in the JFK Assassination Collection database...What's not in it?
- What is the significance of the Record Number in the JFK Assassination Collection Database?
- Where is the Zapruder Film? Can I get a copy of it?
- I am interested in acquiring some of the archives of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection. What is the process to do so?
- Are the photographs digitized?
- I have a school/work/personal project pertaining to the JFK Assassination Collection. How do I begin?
- Do I have to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to access any records within the collection?
- Can I view Mrs. Kennedy’s Pink Suit?
- Can I have copies of the entire collection?
- Can I view President Kennedy’s clothing?
- Are the images in the collection public domain or under copyright?
It is a common misconception that the records relating to the assassination of President Kennedy are in some way sealed. In fact, the records are largely open and available to the research community here at the National Archives at College Park in the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Record Collection.
Congress created the Kennedy Collection when it passed the Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. This statute directed all Federal agencies to transmit to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) all records relating to the assassination in their custody. The Kennedy Act also created a temporary agency, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), to ensure that the agencies complied with the Act.
In addition to records already open at NARA prior to the passing the Kennedy Act, the Collection now consists of previously withheld records of the Warren Commission, records of the Office of the Archivist, and newly released materials from the Kennedy, Johnson, and Ford Presidential Libraries. Other agency records in the Collection include records of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, records of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a small amount of material from a variety of other agencies, including the Office of Naval Intelligence. The Collection now includes over five million pages of records.
With a very few exceptions, virtually all of the records identified as belonging to the Kennedy Collection have been opened in part or in full. Those documents that are closed in full or in part were done so in accordance with the Kennedy Act, mentioned above. According to the Act, no record could be withheld in part or in full, without the agreement of the ARRB. The guidelines for withholding records are outlined in the provisions in Section 6 of the Act. The full report of the ARRB is available online. A copy of the Act is in Appendix C of the ARRB Report mentioned above. In all cases where the ARRB agreed to withhold a record or information in a record, they stipulated a specific release date for the document. In addition, according to Section 5(g)(2)(D) of the Act, all records in the Kennedy Collection will be opened by 2017 unless certified as justifiably closed by the President of the United States.
- The volumes are out of print, but are available to read at US Government depository libraries
throughout the US. Go to
Federal Depository Library to find a depository library near
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) sells microfilm copies of the Warren
Commission Report and its 26 supporting volumes. Simply call 1-800-234-8861 and ask for
microfilm publication M1758 or see the page on How to Purchase Microfilm for
instructions on mailing in an order.
NARA has an electronic link to the
Report, but not the 26
- A digitized version of the Warren Commission Report and all 26 supporting volumes is available
at the web site of the Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC) at the following link:
The AARC is a private organization and is not affiliated with NARA
in any way. NARA cannot vouch for the accuracy of this digitized version of the Report and supporting volumes.
However, we are providing the link as a courtesy for our researchers.
- Finally, we understand that CD ROM versions of the Report and supporting volumes are sold through various sources. We do not endorse any publication but understand that they can be purchased through amazon.com and a private organization at jfklancer.com.
There are three different backyard photographs. Two were located at the time of the Warren Commission and are filed as CE 133A and 133B. A third was discovered by the HSCA and is filed as HSCA F Exhibit F-180. An explanation of the history of all three photographs is located in HSCA Report, Volume II, pp.319-322.
It is NARA policy to make evidentiary objects available for viewing only when a researcher's
needs cannot be met by a review of pictures, reproductions, or descriptions of the object and
when production of the original will not cause damage or harm to the original. We will be
glad to consider your request to see the physical evidence if you will:
(1) Identify which specific exhibit or exhibits you wish to see. A general request to see all of the physical exhibits is not sufficient.
(2) Indicate which of the photographs, drawings, measurements and descriptions of the exhibit and any other documentation relating to it you have examined.
(3) Indicate briefly why the documentation available on the exhibit does not satisfy your research objectives and how those objectives might be met by observation of the original exhibits.
We will not consider any request unless the researcher has examined the digitized preservation photographs of the "Exhibits and Other Evidence from the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (Warren Commission), 1959-1964" that are available through the National Archives Catalog.
The records you describe are from Entry 42 [Exhibits and Other Evidence] in the Records of the Warren Commission (RG 272). Unlike most documents in the JFK Assassination Records Collection, NARA does not routinely serve these records to the public due to the intrinsic value of many of these exhibits and the fact that the CE's are published in the supporting volumes to the Warren Commission Report. If you would still like to examine the original, we will arrange an appointment so that you can view the materials. During the appointment, a NARA staff member will handle the records and will be present at all times. If you would like to make an appointment, please contact the Special Access and FOIA Staff and supply the exhibit number and a brief description of the document you wish to examine. For information about access to artifacts please see the FAQ above.
Any photographs that have been published in books throughout the years were not obtained from NARA.
The autopsy photographs and X-rays of President Kennedy were donated to the National Archives by the Kennedy family by an agreement dated October 29, 1966. This agreement limits access to such materials to: (1) persons authorized to act for a Committee of Congress, a Presidential Commission, or any other official agency of the Federal government having authority to investigate matters relating to the assassination of President Kennedy and to (2) recognized experts in the field of pathology or related areas of science and technology whose applications are approved by the Kennedy family representative, Mr. Paul Kirk.
Can I access the Autopsy Report?
The National Archives does have an electronic copy of Appendix IX (Commission Exhibits 387 & 391). If you would like to receive a hard copy of Appendix IX, please write to us and provide us with a postal mailing address.
The limousine that carried the President was searched for evidence after the assassination. It was then cleaned and continued to be used for certain functions. The windshield of the limousine was removed as evidence by the FBI and the Secret Service since it had been hit by the third bullet. The windshield was designated Commission Exhibit (CE) 350 of the Warren Commission and as a Warren Commission Exhibit will remain in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration. The limousine is currently at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn Michigan.
The official definition of an assassination-related document was established by the ARRB, which was
given the responsibility by the Kennedy Act. The ARRB definition is found in Chapter 2, page 18 of the
The Federal Government created assassination-related records for a variety of reasons. Even before November 22, 1963, a few agencies maintained information on certain individuals later linked with the assassination. Many agencies gathered and created records immediately following the assassination in pursuit of investigations or ongoing business. Still more assembled material in response to the five formal commissions or committees established to investigate various aspects of the assassination or related subjects. Records reflecting all of these functions comprise the Kennedy Collection.
The newly released records include previously withheld records of the Warren Commission, records of the Office of the Archivist, previously opened and newly released materials from the Kennedy, Johnson, and Ford Presidential Libraries, records of the House Select Committee on Assassination, records of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a small amount of material from a variety of other agencies, including the Office of Naval Intelligence. See the Kennedy Collection Register for a complete list of all of the record groups and series in the Kennedy Collection.
To research records specifically regarding Kennedy’s administration, please visit the John F. Kennedy Library.
The database is a document level index of over 260,000 documents. Each document has a unique document identifier, called a record number, and a record identification form (RIF) that tells such information as the date of the document, the "to" and "from", any title associated with the document, brief subject identifiers, and finally the access status of the document. The database does not link to digitized images of records.
The database documents only those records opened pursuant to the Kennedy Act. Not included are documents open prior to 1992, most prominently the records of the Warren Commission, documents donated by private individuals, and the records of the ARRB. Records not in the database are documented via folder title lists available on-line.
The Record Number consists of three sets of numbers (example 180-10001-10123). The first number signifies the agency. All HSCA records are 180, all FBI records are 124, etc. The next number group signifies the data disk on which the data was entered. 10001 signifies disk 1, 10231, signifies disk 231 etc. The last number is the number of record on that disk 10000 is the first record entered on the disk, 10233 is the 234th document entered etc. These all have no significance regarding arrangement of the documents in the file. The more significant information on the record identification form (RIF) is the agency, the series, and the agency file number. However, the record number is the only unique identifying number.
The original Zapruder film is part of the Kennedy Collection and is in the custody of the
Motion Picture Sound and Video staff, at the National Archives at College Park.
NARA may make a single fair-use copy of the film and sell it to any researcher.
However, the copyright for the film is owned by the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas Texas.
If a researcher chooses to publish the film in any way, he or she will need to obtain
permission from the copyright holders.
It should be noted that the Zapruder family created an enhanced version of the film that is much clearer than the original film in NARA's custody. At one time, you could rent this film from local video rental outlets. We believe this film is still available for purchase.
You may view the records here at the National Archives at College Park and make your
own copies. If you cannot make the trip to the Washington area,
we can make copies for you and send them through the mail.
See our fees for self-service and mail order copies
Generally, researchers advise us via e-mail, fax, phone call or letter which documents they wish to have reproduced and we mail them a quote for the cost of reproduction and instructions for payment to the National Archives Trust Fund. Once we have received notification of payment from the Trust Fund, the order goes into our reproduction queue and is processed in turn.
Are the photographs and documents digitized?
A small portion of the five million pages in the Kennedy Assassination Records Collection are digitized and available on line through the National Archives Catalog. Unfortunately, the prohibitive costs of scanning, indexing, and maintaining digitized images on line means that the great majority of JFK Assassination Collection records are not available on NARA’s web site.
However, there are numerous finding aids to the records of the Kennedy Assassination Records Collection available through NARA's website. Among the resources is the JFK Assassination Collection database, which provides an item level description of over 260,000 documents in the Collection. These documents consist of reports, memorandum, and evidence collected by the FBI, the CIA, and the various official governmental investigative organizations, such as the House Select Committee on Assassination. If you are interested in conducting research in the Collection, we urge you to examine the various links within the Collection homepage. If you can locate a specific document or folder that interests you, you can either view the records here at the National Archives at College Park or request a quote for the cost of reproducing the documents and having them sent to you.
I have a school/work/personal project pertaining to the JFK Assassination Collection. How do I begin?
Before conducting research at NARA, it is helpful to read all of the published information on a particular topic. We recommend that you begin with your local library where you should be able to check out books about the assassination written by individuals who have investigated the topic. The Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations both published multi-volume reports. The volumes consist not only of the reports themselves, but also exhibits and testimony, which describe how each of these organizations came to their conclusions. These reports are available at U.S. government depository libraries, which are located all over the United States. You can locate a depository library near you by visiting the GPO website.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) holds the unique documents created by government organizations in the course of their business. This documentation consists of such things as letters, memorandums, and reports. We have well over 5 million pages of documents relating to the Kennedy assassination alone. We do not loan records since each document is unique, unlike a library book, which is one of many copies. When you are ready to begin using the documents from the JFK Assassination Records Collection, please visit our website at http://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/. There you will find more detailed information about the collection, including the final reports of both the Warren Commission and House Select Committee on Assassinations (not including the supporting volumes) and the JFK database. The database indexes over 300,000 of the documents that are a part of the collection.
Do I have to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to access any records within the collection?
No, tThe vast majority of records in the JFK Assassination Collection are open in full. There is not need to file a FOIA to examine open records in the custody of the National Archives. For the few records that are partially or fully closed, the JFK Assassination Records Review Board voted to authorize the withholding of each piece of information that was postponed under Section 6 of the JFK Act. Under the Act, no information can be closed after 2017 unless approved by the President of the United States. The grounds for postponement under the JFK Act are much more narrowly drawn thatn the exemption categories of the FOIA, therefore more information has been released under the provisions of the JFK Act than would have been released under the provisions of the FOIA. I It is extremely unlikely that information withheld under the JFK Act would be released under a FOIA review. Nevertheless, if you would like to request a FOIA review of documents that have information deleted, please write to us citing the specific document.
Can I view Mrs. Kennedy’s Pink Suit?
Mrs. Kennedy's suit resides at the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) College Park facility. It is located in a secure area, under climate-controlled conditions, and stored flat in special containers for preservation purposes.
Caroline B. Kennedy donated suit to the National Archives through a deed of gift, signed in 2003 The deed states that the clothing and personal effects "should be deposited, safeguarded, and preserved in the National Archives of the United States as materials of historical importance, and "the family further desires to ensure that the materials never be subject to public display, research, or any other use that would in any way dishonor the memory of Mrs. Kennedy or President Kennedy, or cause any grief or suffering to members of their family." Therefore access to the clothing and personal effects of Mrs. Kennedy are restricted for one hundred (100) years from the date of execution of the deed of gift.
Can I have copies of the entire collection?
There are well over 5 million pages of records that document the assassination of President Kennedy and the investigation that followed. The National Archives currently charges $.80 per page for photocopies of textual records. For this reason, copying the entire Collection is not practical. There are finding aids available on line that can help you narrow your request to specific documents that answer your research question.
Please visit our website. Here, you will find detailed information about the collection. Online versions of the final reports of the Warren Commission, House Select Committee on Assassinations, and the Assassination Records Review Board are also available. To locate documents in the JFK Assassination Records Collection that are relevant to your research, I suggest that you search the JFK database, also available on our website. This database indexes over 300,000 individual records in the Collection. Tips for using the database are provided on the website. Each document is described in a Record Identification Form (RIF).
Once you have located the documents to which you would like access, simply print out the RIFs and mail them to Textual Records Reference Division, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, Maryland, 20740. Alternatively, you may also cut and paste the entire RIF into an email and send it to our office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Upon receiving your reproduction request, we will send you a quote for the reproduction charges. When we receive payment, we will prepare the photocopies and mail them to you.
Can I view President Kennedy’s clothing?
The apparel worn by President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, is in the legal and physical custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The President's apparel was used as evidence during the Warren Commission investigation into the assassination during the years 1963 through 1964. When the work of the Warren Commission ended, the apparel was transferred to NARA under a deed of gift. The apparel is located in a secure area, under climate-controlled conditions, and stored flat in special containers for preservation purposes. In addition, NARA created detailed color photos of these materials as part of a larger preservation effort to photograph the significant artifacts in the JFK Assassination Records Collection. Due to the restraints of the deed of gift under which the materials were transferred to NARA, NARA has not posted these photographs online, as we have with photographs of other JFK assassination related artifacts. However, the photographs of the clothing are available for examination in our research room in College Park, Maryland, or may be purchased for a fee.
Are the images in the collection public domain or under copyright?
Some of the images in which you are interested may be copyrighted. Where obvious copyright or donor imposed restrictions apply, written releases from the copyright owners may be required before reproductions will be made. It is the user’s responsibility to obtain all necessary clearances. Any use of these items is made at the researcher’s or purchaser’s own risk.
The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.
Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specific conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement.
The National Archives reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.