Frequently Asked Questions
- 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?
- 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?
I've heard that some of the records are sealed? Why? When will they be opened to the public for examination for my research?
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.
How can I get a copy of the Warren Commission Report?
- 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.
What do you know about the "backyard photographs"?
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.
Can I see the rifle or other artifacts?
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 NARA's Archival Research Catalog (ARC). The Archival Research Catalog section on JFK will assist you on finding these images in ARC.
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.
I have seen the autopsy photographs and x-rays in books. Did NARA make them available?
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.
What happened to the Presidential Limousine that carried President Kennedy on the day he was assassinated?
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.
What is an "assassination-related" document?
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.
The JFK Assassination Collection Database: What is it?
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.
What's in the JFK Assassination Collection database...What's not in it?
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.
What is the significance of the Record Number in the JFK Assassination Collection Database?
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.
Where is the Zapruder Film? Can I get a copy of it?
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.
I am interested in acquiring some of the archives of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection. What is the process to do so?
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.