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True Stories

Documenting our American Experience
Archivist helps visitor finds connection to his personal history
Dorothy Dougherty, Public Programs Specialist,
Northeast Region, New York City,
October 3, 2008

On October 3rd, 2008, Dorothy Dougherty, public programs specialist, northeast region, relates a story of how a reference archivist in New York helped a visitor find connection to his personal history.

Old family photographNARA's northeast regional office is located in a multi-government office building in New York City. One day, a fellow entered our office and stated that he worked in the building and was curious to see what the National Archives was all about. The reference Archivist explained NARA's mission and it's holdings, and told him that patrons essentially come to the National Archives for assistance in locating records that will help them document their past. In essence, documents that will help to prove eligibility for benefits such as veterans, social security, passport, and driver's license. The Archivist further mentioned that patrons also visit for academic, legal, genealogical, and other historical research needs.

To illustrate her point, she said, "We might have records that relate to you."

She then asked, "When did your family come to America?" The patron thought a minute and said that his father came in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Further probing revealed that he wasn't sure if his father became a citizen or not. The Archivist explained that we hold Federal court records. If his father had become a citizen through the Federal courts, we may have his Naturalization papers. With just that little bit of information, including his father's name, the Archivist did a quick search to see if she could find his Naturalization record. She then went into the stacks and returned with a copy of a Naturalization record for a man with the same name.

When she asked the patron, "Is this your father?" he looked at the record and said, "Yes," and began to cry. He said he had never seen a photo of his father that young; and it had been many years since his father had passed. He was deeply moved.

He thanked the Archivist for her time, and for locating what would now be a cherished family heirloom. He was amazed that he found an immediate connection to his own personal history in the National Archives.

This is one of the countless intimate stories of how records in the National Archives have helped document our American experience as well as relate the important work we do.

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