Educator Resources

National History Day Onsite Research

How to Do Archival Research

Get Started

Open File at the Hoover Library

Be prepared to learn something new. Archives are almost nothing like libraries, except that they are open to the public for research purposes. Unlike libraries that collect documents, archives are repositories for permanent documents. Most of the records at the National Archives were sent automatically from U.S. federal government offices. These documents are kept for historical or operational reasons. So you’ll find permanently valuable federal government records in the National Archives and almost never anywhere else, but they might be in several different National Archives buildings (including Presidential Libraries, which are archives too).

Archives don't organize records by topic, but instead maintain the filing systems that each contributing agency or person thought was best for their day-to-day business. Individual items (the documents themselves) aren’t usually indexed or catalogued. It’s even possible to find documents that nobody has seen for decades or hundreds of years.

Think of events that might have happened surrounding your topic. Then think about what different federal agencies or offices might have been involved. Next, identify the time period. You'll want to look into the records of those federal agencies or departments from that time period. Learn more at: Getting Started with Research at the National Archives

Archivists can help you with your research, but you should be able to tell them:

  • the Federal and/or presidential connection to your topic;
  • what agencies, offices, or individuals might have been involved (archivists can help you brainstorm!) and what time period you're interested in;
  • and what kinds of records (textual, maps, photographs, videos, etc.) you're looking for.

Figure out which National Archives location holds the records you're interested in by searching the National Archives main online catalog. Search using the main word or words contained in an agency's name (or a person's name), plus a word that the documents might have been filed under. Then use the information listed to contact us to learn more about the records and if you should come see them in person (some might be online already!). Learn more at: Plan Your Research Visit

Read Research at the National Archives by People Under Age 18. You need to be 14 years old to do research at the National Archives, unless you receive special permission (you can ask!) and are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Our Locations

The Washington, DC, Area

Little Rock, AR—William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum

Riverside, CA

San Francisco, CA

Simi Valley, CA—Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

Yorba Linda, CA—The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

Denver, CO

Atlanta, GA

Atlanta, GA—Jimmy Carter Library and Museum

Chicago, IL

West Branch, IA—Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

  • The reading room is open to researchers Monday– Friday, 8:45 a.m.–noon and 12:30–4:45 p.m. It is closed all federal holidays and weekends. Archivists are happy to assist NHD students, teachers, and families. Appointments are suggested by calling 319-643-5301. See: Research Room Procedures

Abilene, KS—Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home

Boston, MA (Waltham)

Boston, MA—John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Kansas City, MO

Independence, MO—Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

New York, NY

Hyde Park, NY—Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Philadelphia, PA

Austin, TX—Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

College Station, TX—George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Dallas, TX—George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Fort Worth, TX

Seattle, WA