National Archives at Philadelphia

Family History

Records Available

Who were my ancestors? Where did they live? What did they do? Do I have missing family? These are questions genealogists hope to answer by using the records at the National Archives at Philadelphia to research their family.

The National Archives at Philadelphia offers many records useful anyone researching their family history, such as:

Selected finding aids, including a comprehensive guide to archival records, are available by mail and the NARA web site.

More information about researching family history at the National Archives is provided on NARA's main Genealogy page.

Census Records

The Constitution requires that the Federal Government count the population every ten years to determine the number of Representatives each state sends to Congress. The National Archives at Philadelphia facility provides access to the Federal population censuses for all states from 1790 to 1930.

Census records provide basic facts about your ancestors and reveal clues to finding other records in the National Archives. Early censuses provide the name of the head of the household and the number of occupants. Later censuses reveal the names of each family member as well as age, marital status, occupation, state or country of birth, year of immigration, and year of naturalization.

Ship's Passenger Lists

In an effort to protect immigrants and encourage travel to the United States, the Federal Government required passenger lists beginning in 1820. Since then, over 55 million people have immigrated to the U.S.

The National Archives at Philadelphia provides access to the ship's passenger lists for numerous ports, including Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA, and New York, NY.

Ship's passenger lists from the 19th century document a traveler's name, age, occupation, destination, and country of origin. Late 19th century and 20th century passenger lists may include the traveler's place of birth, assets, health, last foreign residence, the name of a relative in the home town, information about previous journeys to the U.S., and the final U.S. destination.

Naturalization Records

Immigrants become U.S. citizens through naturalization. Upon meeting residency requirements, immigrants petition the courts for citizenship and take an oath of allegiance. Under former laws, immigrants could petition for citizenship in Federal, state, or county courts.

The National Archives at Philadelphia has the naturalization records for the Federal courts in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia for the following time periods:

Delaware: Wilmington, 1797-1991.

Maryland: Baltimore, 1792-1972.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, 1790-1991; Pittsburgh, 1820-1979; Erie, 1940-1972; Scranton, 1901-1990; Wilkes-Barre, 1943-1972; Williamsport, 1909-1913; and Harrisburg, 1911-1917.

Virginia: Alexandria, 1909-1981; Norfolk, 1851-1992; Richmond, 1870-1990 (with gaps); Abingdon, 1913-1949; Big Stone Gap, 1914-1944; Charlottesville, 1910-1957; Danville, 1907-1966; and Roanoke, 1906-1990.

West Virginia: Clarksburg, 1904-1951; Elkins, 1926-1956, 1970-1980; Fairmont, 1944-1974; Phillipi, 1910-1925; Wheeling, 1844-1875, 1910-1978; and Charleston, 1906-1929.

Early naturalization records, from the 1790 through 1906, typically provide an immigrant's name and country of origin. In 1906, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization standardized the naturalization process and began to require more detail on the naturalization forms.

The courts usually filed petitions in numerical order by petition number. You can begin your search for the petition number with the courts' indexes to naturalization records. These indexes list, in alphabetical order, the names of all people naturalized in a particular court. For each petitioner the index provides the petition number assigned to an immigrant's Petition for Naturalization.

For information about requesting naturalization records, see the Records Request Process below.

Military Service Records

The National Archives at Philadelphia, through its partners and, provides access to records relating to the military service of individuals from the American Revolution through World War II. Please note that Official Military Personnel Files from World War I to the present are held by the National Archives at St. Louis.

World War I and World War II, Fourth Enumeration Draft Cards can also be accessed through our partner sites. In addition, Records of the Selective Service System, 1940-1969, for individuals from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virgina are available from the National Archives at St. Louis. For information about requesting these records, see the Records Request Process below.


Records Request Process

Until renovations are completed, please contact us by mail, telephone, fax, mail, or e-mail.

Contact Information

National Archives
14700 Townsend Road
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19154-1096

Telephone: (215) 305-2044
Fax: (215) 305-2038

In your correspondence, please include your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail.

For naturalization records, please include the name of the naturalized citizen, court or city where the naturalization occurred, approximate date of the naturalization or immigration, country or place of birth, date of birth, name of spouse, and names of children.

Copies of World War I draft cards can be requested from the National Archives at Atlanta (

For information on obtaining World War II era and later draft cards, please see