Aerial Photography in Record Group 57: Records of the U.S. Geological Survey

Special List 25 is the starting point for accessing any domestic aerial photography. This Special List provides information on which record groups and series hold photographs for specific domestic locations. It is available digitally on-site or by request by emailing the Cartographic Branch at Additionally, a paper copy is available in the Cartographic Research Room, located at Archives 2, in College Park, Maryland. The list is arranged by state and thereunder by county.

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Special List 25, RG 57 Aerial Photography, Bayfield County, WI

Aerial photography listed in Record Group 57: Records of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in the Special List can be found in the series Aerial Photography, 1935 - 1966

You can access these records by first using the associated indexes: Aerial Photography Indexes, ca. 1935 - 1966. Digitized copies of the indexes are available for viewing and copying on a shared drive in the Cartographic Research Room. The project symbol listed in Special List 25 can be cross referenced with a spreadsheet on this drive, which provides the digitized folder where these particular indexes are held.

For example, the photographs for Bayfield, Rusk, and Sawyer Counties in Wisconsin are all under the project symbol of “AL."


RG 57 aerial photography project spreadsheet


This symbol can be found in the Special List entry for these counties. From there, you can cross reference the project symbol to the spreadsheet available on the shared drive. Looking at the project “AL” in this spreadsheet will lead you to the digital index identifiers for these counties.


RG 57 aerial photography cassette spreadsheet

Once you find your project symbol in this spreadsheet, you can see which digitized indexes cover your area of interest. The scans are arranged into folders by cassette number. The first digits in the “Scan” field will tell you which cassette to navigate to. In this case it’s 01 (010021).

RG 57 aerial photographs cassette 01 folder

From the cassette folder, you can navigate directly to the scans that match the number from the “Scan” field in the spreadsheet.

RG 57 aerial photographs list of scans

The indexes are mosaics of available photography. You can search for your specific area of interest on the mosaic. Once you find your spot of interest, a frame number will be shown in the image, which corresponds to a frame number on a film can.

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RG57, Aerial Photography Indexes, AL-010021

Once you have your citation (ex: AL-1-10), you can find the film can where this photograph is held using our RG 57 Can Locator. This database is available digitally on-site or by request by emailing the Cartographic Branch at

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RG 57, Aerial Photography Can Locator

In this case, you can search for the symbol “AL” and the roll “1.” All of the photographs for this project will be on this can and the individual frame numbers can be found on the film. The photographs for AL-1 are on the film can ON175298, Barcode T357922606. Cans with an ON identifier are original negatives which are stored at the Lenexa Federal Records Center. These cans can be ordered in the Cartographic Research Room and arrive within three business days. If you already have a researcher card, you can order ON cans ahead of your visit to our site.

Once you order the cans and they arrive at our facility, you can view and copy them in the Cartographic Research Room. We have light tables which allow you to view the film and take photographs on a personal camera. We also have aerial film scanners available. If you have a USB capable laptop, you can bring it to our research room and scan the photographs to your computer.

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RG 57, Aerial Photography, AL-1-10 (available online at USGS EarthExplorer, entity ID AR1AL0000010010).

Searching RG 57 Aerial Photography on USGS EarthExplorer

Many RG 57 photographs at NARA can also be found already scanned on the USGS EarthExplorer website.

Follow these steps to search for specific aerial images:

1. Search Criteria: Set your Search Criteria using the options given

You can enter a date range to narrow down your search.

Earth Explorer Search Criteria


2. Data Sets: Select "Aerial Imagery," then "Aerial Photo Single Frames"

Earth Explorer Data Sets


3. Additional Criteria: Enter the project identifier into the "Project" field

Earth Explorer Additional Criteria


4. Click "Results"

You will then see a list of the photographs for this project with thumbnails of the photographs.

Earth Explorer Search Results Tab

Once you click on the thumbnail you will see a larger entry which includes the photograph and metadata. You can also order images from the USGS via the link provided with each search result.

If you prefer to view the original film at the National Archives, you can do so in the Cartographic Research Room.

You can view a related blog post on the History Hub here: Researching USGS Aerial Photography.

If you have any questions about these photographs, you can contact the Cartographic Branch at