Research at the National Archives

State Department Central Files (RG 59)

Central Files (RG 59)

For most research topics, the central files are the largest and most important category of Department of State records. They are the most inclusive and authoritative repository of reporting by American diplomatic and consular posts overseas. There is at least some documentation in the Department’s central files on almost all topics relating to U.S. foreign policy and relations with other countries. The records include Department of State incoming and outgoing communications with U.S. diplomatic and consular offices in foreign countries; with foreign diplomatic and consular offices in the United States; and with other U.S. Government agencies, private organizations, and the public. The central files also include internal memorandums and reports.

Despite the increase of decentralized files in the period after World War II, the so-called "Lot Files," research in almost all topics relating to U.S. foreign policy and foreign affairs should begin with the central files of the Department of State.

Record keeping in the Department of State changed over the years. As a result, how you use the records will depend on the dates of the subject of your research. There are records from five major periods of record keeping: