How to File a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request
Because of their age, most records in the National Archives' archival holdings are unrestricted and are available for research without filing a FOIA request. If you are unsure whether the records you seek are restricted, we suggest you submit a research inquiry first, to determine what records NARA holds on your research topic. You may also want to search the National Archives Catalog to see if records on your topic are already available online.
If you determine that you need to request records under the FOIA:
Special Access and FOIA Program
National Archives at College Park
8601 Adelphi Road, Room 5500
College Park, MD 20740-6001
You must submit a FOIA request in writing by email, mail, or fax. You do not need to submit a specific form to make a FOIA request, simply include the information below in the body of your email, letter, or fax.
1. Specify that you are filing a FOIA request
2. Include your contact information:
- Complete name (first and last)
- Mailing address
- Telephone number
- Email address
3. Describe the records you want to request:
- FOIA requests must include a reasonable description of the records requested.
- Be as specific as possible with regard to names, titles, dates, places, events, subjects, and recipients.
- Additional identifying information may include: record group, entry number, series title, file titles, National Archives Identifier number, copies of withdrawal sheets, or accession numbers.
- Any other information that will help us identify records pertaining to your request.
- If you are requesting Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or Department of Justice (DOJ) investigative case files or Navy or Marine Corps Muster Rolls, please see below for additional information about how to request these specific categories of records.
4. Provide additional information (if applicable):
- First Party Requests: If you are asking for records relating to yourself, you have the option to request a first party review. Under a first party review, we will not redact your privacy information, such as your birthday or Social Security number. If you would like to request a first party review, we require you to complete and submit a signed Certification of Identity form (DOJ-361). Complete the form and send it back to the Special Access and FOIA Program by mail or fax along with your FOIA request (or your assigned FOIA request tracking number if you have already sent your request to our office).
- Deceased Individuals: If you are requesting archival records about a deceased individual, it is helpful to provide proof of death. Acceptable forms of proof of death include: an obituary, a copy of death certificate, or documentation from another recognized source, such as: Ancestry, Find A Grave, Genealogy Bank, Google, Proquest, Social Security Death Index, Wikipedia, or the Who's Who in America.
Certain records are likely to require a FOIA request due to the nature of the information they contain. These include Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Justice (DOJ) case files; as well as Navy and Marine Corps muster rolls for certain time periods. Since these records are frequently requested, we have provided additional information below to aid requesters seeking these specific categories of records:
For FBI and DOJ case files, please provide the following:
- Case file number(s)
- Subject of interest
- If you have a letter from the FBI's Record/Information Dissemination Section indicating that file(s) have been transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration, attach it to your request.
- Time-frame of interest (if applicable)
Many FBI and DOJ case files are now available in our online catalog. Before making a FOIA request, you may want to search the National Archives Catalog to see if any of the files you seek are already available. You may search by keyword (National Archives Catalog Search Tips) or use the Record Group Explorer Tool, which allows you to view all digitized files in a Record Group:
Muster Rolls are lists of naval personnel or marines formerly attached to a ship, station or other activity. Muster rolls and personnel diaries dated on or after January 1, 1971 use Social Security numbers as service numbers, and are therefore subject to privacy restrictions. This means that requests for these records must be submitted under the FOIA.
If you are requesting Navy or Marine Corps muster rolls or personnel diaries prior to 1971, you do not need to submit a FOIA request, you can submit a research inquiry. For additional information about requesting Navy muster rolls, please see Know Your Records: U.S. Navy Muster Rolls and Personnel Diaries.
Muster Rolls describe one of the following types of reports:
Personnel Diaries: Personnel Diaries are the daily tabulations of personnel actions within a unit or ship. They record a wide range of activities such as the start of leave for an individual, criminal charges, changes to rank or duty, and transfer to other units. They also record the coming and goings of people who stay on a ship for a period of time or complete ROTC assignment within the unit. Because these individuals are not assigned to the unit or ship, they are not added to the roster.
Rosters: Rosters are lists of sailors and officers assigned to a particular ship or unit. They are compiled either quarterly or monthly.
For muster roll requests, please provide the following information:
- Activity code (if known)
- Ship/Base or Unit designation(s)
- Beginning and end dates of interest
- Type of information sought (more than one may be indicated):
- Officer and/or enlisted
- Personnel Diaries and/or Rosters
- The name(s) of specific person(s) (if applicable)
- Be as specific as possible. A narrow timeframe/specific information may reduce the processing time for your request.