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Why Visit the National Archives?


We have historical documents that tell the stories of America's history as a nation and as a people, available to you in 33 locations nationwide. These valuable records are evidence of our national experience.

Each year, our staff serves our visitors billions of letters, photographs, video and audio recordings, drawings, maps, treaties, posters, and other items that we have preserved. The materials are not for loan to the public, as a library loans material; they are protected, but are available for you to use in-person at our facilities and affiliated archives.

You can visit the National Archives, nationwide, to:

  • View exhibits of historical records and presidential papers:
    • The Public Vaults and the Charters of Freedom (the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights), located in Washington, D.C.
    • Exhibits about American Presidents (each one since Herbert Hoover) in our Presidential libraries.
    • Records of local importance to geographical regions of America in our regional facilities.
  • Request records for your examination in our research rooms. Please note: Records are located in specific facilities. Learn about how to determine which records are located where.
  • Attend public programs, including film presentations, workshops, and lectures. See our Washington D.C. Calendar of Events. For events around the country, see the calendars for each National Archives facility.
  • Review proposed Federal rules and regulations at the Federal Register, which is part of the National Archives and is located in Washington, D.C.

Examples of what you can find at the National Archives. . .

  • President Ronald Reagan's speech card from remarks made in Berlin, Germany in June 1987 (when the infamous Berlin Wall was still standing), which is marked up to indicate points of emphasis.
  • Photographs of child labor conditions at the turn of the 19th century. Children did everything from selling newspapers to shucking oysters to make a few pennies.
  • The Zimmerman Telegram, named for German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann, secretly offered U.S. lands to Mexico in exchange for Mexican support during World War I. The British were able to decipher the code. The telegram helped convince the United States to enter the war in 1917.
  • The arrest warrant for Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who was accused of assassinating President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.

Who Uses the National Archives and Why?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people contact us or come to our research facilities and Presidential libraries, and millions use our web site. Their purposes are many and varied. Here are a few examples:

Most people who come to the National Archives to conduct research are genealogists or family historians. They are trying to find information about their ancestors in order to fill in their family tree or write a family history. They use census records to learn people's names, ages, and who lived where, when. They check passenger arrival lists from boats that originated in Europe to prove when an immigrant landed in the United States. Genealogists also often look at military service records, as well as land, naturalization, and passport records, and more.

In addition to conducting this research at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, the Regional Archives also have most of the main genealogical-related records on microfilm as well.

Veterans and next-of-kin of deceased veterans contact the National Archives to obtain copies of military service records, including the DD Form 214, Report of Separation, which is used to determine eligibility for Government benefits and employment. Veterans and next-of-kin of deceased veterans have the same rights for full access to the record. Next-of-kin include the widow or widower (not remarried), son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister of the deceased veteran. More than 70 million veterans service records are on file at NARA's National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Pre-WWI military records can primarily be found in Washington, DC, at the National Archives Building. Post-WWI records are generally in St. Louis, and must be ordered through the mail. However, a small research room is opening this summer in St. Louis for the public to view select military records.

Educators and Students:
Educators frequently employ the National Archives to develop primary-source, document-based lesson plans and to help bring history alive for their students. Many students use the archives for research projects. While researchers must be at least 14 years old to conduct research at the National Archives' facilities, all ages can use the National Archives web site to find information.

Museum Visitors:
American citizens and foreign visitors come to the National Archives to see historical documents and discover how they reflect our history. We also offer tours for school groups. Our museums include the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. and our Presidential libraries located nationwide. Exhibits are often on display as well at our regional locations.

Environmentalists and Land Researchers:
Over the years, the U.S. Geological Survey, Soil Conservation Service, and other government agencies have used aerial photography to study and map the land. Environmentalists look at these photos to trace changes in land use. Other people use the photos to settle land-boundary disputes.

Maps that were created by the U.S. Army during the War of 1812 are being utilized today by archaeologists to help locate the remains of buildings and sunken ships and to plan excavations.

Many of the designs used by the Federal Government to build forts, post offices, lighthouse, and offices across the country are housed in the National Archives. As a result, architectural historians and preservationists look at these records when exploring different building styles and in helping city planners save important historic buildings.

Museum Curators:
Museum curators develop displays based on research or fascinating discoveries from the National Archives. Even hobbyists find the Archives useful. Model airplane and ship builders can find the designs for hundreds of military planes and ships that have been built for the United States since the Revolutionary War.

Biographers, novelists, software developers, and movie and television screenwriters sometimes enlist the help of the National Archives to make their books, shows, and computer games more accurate and enjoyable.