Plan Your Research Visit
The National Archives at Philadelphia provides researchers the opportunity to review records created by Federal agencies in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Our research rooms are open by appointment only. Each National Archives facility holds different groups of records, so we recommend researching in the National Archives Catalog or Guide to Archival Holdings at the National Archives at Philadelphia to get a sense of our holdings. To make the most efficient use of your time, please contact our staff in advance to ask questions, request finding aids, and/or ensure that the records or microfilm you wish to review are available at our location.
When submitting an inquiry, include your contact information so that we can reach out to you in case more information is needed. All requests are answered within 10 business days in the order they are received, regardless of the method you use to communicate with us. In order to answer your questions properly, please provide us with the following information:
- Topic or research interest
- The Federal agencies, offices, or individuals may have been involved and the time period in which you are interested
- The kinds of records (textual, photographs, maps, drawings, etc) you wish to review
- And, if you know, which specific record groups or series you wish to review
You will find information about the following on this page:
- Facility Information
- Archival Research Room
- Public Access Research Room
The National Archives at Philadelphia holds over 115,000 cubic feet of archival holdings dating from 1789 to the 1990s, including textual documents, photographs, maps, architectural drawings, and more. These archival holdings were created or received by the Federal courts and more than 100 Federal agencies in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia. Please feel free to contact our staff with any questions regarding our holdings or procedures.
Researchers wishing to review archival records must schedule an appointment. Please contact our staff to confirm your appointment ahead of time, as seating in our Archival Research Room is limited. Please include the following information when requesting an appointment: Your full name, daytime telephone number, email address, date and time of the desired appointment, and the specifics of what you are requesting to view. Appointments provide the Archival Research Room staff with the time needed to search, verify and pull the requested materials, allowing researchers to maximize their scheduled visit time.
Before using our archival holdings, every researcher must present a valid Researcher Card issued by the National Archives at Philadelphia or another NARA facility. New researchers should plan for a total of 15-20 minutes to complete the registration process. To obtain a Researcher Card, an applicant must:
- Show official identification that includes a photograph. Acceptable IDs include driver’s license, passport, and school and employment identification.
- Complete a short form giving name, address, telephone number, and a brief description of the proposed research topic.
- Review a short orientation binder emphasizing safe handling of records and explaining the most basic research procedures, responsibilities, and rules.
- Please note that our Researcher Card must be present during each research visit.
- Your Researcher Card is valid for one year.
- You may renew your card at our location.
- If you forget or lose your Researcher Card, talk to the staff when you arrive on your next planned research visit. If your card was issued at Philadelphia, we may be able to issue you a replacement
- You must leave personal belongings in free, secure lockers. This includes bags, carrying cases, briefcases, purses, books, notebooks, and notepads.
- You may bring in your own pencils and loose paper, or we can provide these for you.
- Pens and highlighters are not allowed, nor are pressure sensitive notes, such as Post-Its.
- Pre-written notes must be on loose paper (not on a pad or in a notebook).
- View a full list of allowed and prohibited items on our What's Allowed in Research Rooms page.
- Only paper, pencils, and laptop computers may be used for note taking.
- When you are using records in the Research Room, you can almost always make your own copies of both paper records and special media, such as photographs. Please talk with staff before beginning copy work.
- Our self-service copier is available for $0.25 per page (up to 11 x 17 inches), payable by credit card, money order, or check. The copier can be used to make paper copies or digital scans. If you are scanning, you will need to provide your own flash drive.
- Personal Scanners must meet NARA requirements, which are detailed on our Scanning Documents in the Research Rooms page.
- Cameras may be used to photograph documents, but flash photography is prohibited.
- Our facility does not have a Wi-Fi (wireless access) network.
- Eating, drinking, and smoking are not permitted in the Archival Research Room.
- Cell phones must be set to silent. Researchers need to step into the hallway or foyer to receive or make calls.
- View a full list of allowed and prohibited items on our What's Allowed in Research Rooms page.
- You are responsible for safeguarding the condition of the records that have been brought to you. If you have any concerns at all when handling fragile records, alert the reference staff for assistance or guidance.
- You may remove from a cart and open only one box or bound volume at a time.
- You may remove and open only one folder from a box at a time.
- The records should stay flat on the table at all times.
- The records must be kept in the same order in which they are given to you. If folders in a box or pages in a folder appear to be out of order, do not rearrange the records yourself. Alert the staff instead.
- Keep good notes as to records consulted. Doing this will help you differentiate between multiple groups of records searched and your steps can be retraced if necessary. If necessary, staff can show you how to properly construct a citation.
- Do background reading on your intended subject, noting significant names, dates, events, and any evidence that Federal records may be used for further research.
- Determine whether your topic can be searched in the National Archives and consider whether it falls within a Federal function or a specific entity of the Federal Government.
- When you determine that the Federal Government produced documentation concerning your research interest, keep the likely time period(s) in mind, and what physical form(s) that documentation might take.
- Remember that the Federal Government has almost no jurisdiction over state, local, or municipal activities, or over private enterprises, unless mandated by the Constitution. Therefore, we do not have discrete files of birth, marriage, divorce, death, or similar state and local level records.
- Because the National Archives and Records Administration is truly a national system of records repositories, ask us about relevant records that may exist beyond the scope of our holdings at other NARA facilities.
- During your research visit, keep good notes as to records consulted so that you can differentiate between multiple groups of records searched, and your steps can be retraced if necessary.
- Write or call ahead so that you can properly plan your research visit.
- If you have questions, ask us. We are here to help you.
Note: the Public Access Reference Room is not currently available.
The Public Access Reference Room at the National Archives at Philadelphia is a self-service research room which provides access to some of the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) microfilmed and digitized holdings, along with our small reference library. This room is open from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm Monday through Friday, except for Federal Holidays. This is a self-service research room, our staff is not available to provide genealogical consultation or undertake detailed genealogical or historical research with you (if you require genealogical consultation or assistance, one option is to contact a Family History Center, operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, nearest your location). Researchers using the resources in our Public Access Research Room do not need an appointment nor a NARA Research ID.
Note: the Public Access PCs are not currently available.
The National Archives at Philadelphia has six Public Access PCs, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. We offer free access to and printing from (within Fair Use copyright provisions) a variety of online resources, including our digitization partners Ancestry, FamilySearch and Fold3.
Note: self-service microfilm is not currently available.
The National Archives at Philadelphia holds a small collection of microfilm. We charge $0.40 per self-service microfilm copy or scan, which is payable via check, money order, or credit card. To see what microfilm publications we hold in our Public Access Research Room, browse NARA's Microfilm Catalog or contact our staff. You can learn more about Microfilm Publications and original records which have been digitized by our digitization partners and are available online by checking out Microfilm Publications and Original Records Digitized by Our Digitization Partners.
Note: the reference library is not currently available.
The National Archives at Philadelphia houses a small reference library. You may use and make copies (within Fair Use copyright provisions) from these reference materials while in the Public Access Research Room.