Research at the National Archives


Decentralized Files (RG 59)


The Decentralized Files fall into three categories:

  1. Records of Organization Units
  2. Records Relating to Various Functions
  3. Records Relating to Special Subjects and to Individuals

Records of Organizational Units

The records in this category were created or maintained separately from the Department's central files by units of the Department or by individual officials with special assignments or duties. While most of these records date from World War II and later, some date back to the eighteenth/nineteenth century.

Most of the records of organizational units come from the various geographic area offices within the Department of State, such as the bureaus dealing with Europe, Africa, Western Hemisphere, Middle/Near East, South Asia, Asia and the Pacific, or the functional bureaus dealing with international organization affairs, politico-military affairs, intelligence and research, or public affairs. Other organizational records originated in major policy offices such as the Secretary of State, the Deputy Secretary of State, the under secretaries, the Executive Secretariat, and the Policy Planning Staff.

From the early 20th Century to World War II, the Department filed the majority of the policy–related documentation in the Central Files, and they are the primary source of documentation on U.S. foreign relations. Beginning in the 1940s, the volume of documentation expanded while the Department’s filing practices changed, resulting in the preservation of decentralized files dealing with foreign policy matters. This is especially true of high–level offices such as the Executive Secretariat and the Policy Planning Staff, but also extends to operating bureaus and offices.

Beginning in the late 1950s, the Department designated some bureaus and offices to maintain officially decentralized files. In those cases, even though there may be relevant file categories in the Central Files, most documentation was filed in the decentralized files.

When the Department of State retired records from agency offices, each body of records was assigned a control number, the “Lot File” number, usually the last two digits of the fiscal year combined with the numerical order of transfer:

  • Lot 59D539 indicates the 539th transfer from a departmental office in calendar year 1959

A “Lot File” may remain intact once it is accessioned by the National Archives. In many cases, numerous Lot Files that constitute segments of a single series retired at different times are combined into one archival series, such as the nine Lot Files combined to form the series “Conference Files, 1949-1963” in the records of the Executive Secretariat. In other cases, a Lot File may be split into more than one series.

Among the major Departmental organizations for which there are records are:

  • The Secretary of State (S)
  • The Deputy Secretary of State (D)
  • Under Secretary of State (U)
  • Under Secretary for Economic Affairs (E)
  • Under Secretary for Management (M)
  • Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P)
  • Under Secretary for Security Assistance (T)
  • The Counselor (C)
  • The Chief of Protocol (S/CPR)
  • Policy Planning Staff (S/P)
  • Bureau of Administration (A)
  • Bureau of African Affairs (AF)
  • Bureau of Inter-American Affairs (ARA)
  • Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EA)
  • Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB)
  • Bureau of European Affairs (EUR)
  • Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs (FE)
  • Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (NEA)
  • Bureau of Legislative Affairs (H)
  • Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA)
  • Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (CU)*
  • Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs (HA)
  • Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)
  • Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO)
  • Office of the Legal Advisor (L)
  • Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES)
  • Bureau of Public Affairs (PA)
  • Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (PM)
  • Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs (SCA)
  • Bureau of International Scientific and Technological Affairs (SCI)

*Many records from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs are located in the "CU Historical Collection" at the University of Arkansas. Information about that collection is available on their website.

Records Relating to Various Functions

This category covers records relating to special functions assigned to the Department of State. Some of those functions were internal in nature, but others stemmed form the Department's general government responsibilities. Some of those functions were temporary; others were terminated; still others were transferred to other agencies.

Among the records are:

  • administrative records (circulars, regulations, orders, etc.)
  • appointment records (applications and recommendations, nominations, commissions, oaths of office, etc.)
  • exequaturs and related records
  • extradition papers
  • general pardon records
  • records relating to the Great Seal of the United States
  • territorial papers

Records Relating to Special Subjects and to Individuals

The records in this category relate to special subjects or events that were segregated from the Department's central files or maintained by separate offices or missions established to carry out special assignments or maintained by individuals.

Among the records are files relating to:

  • impressed seamen (including War of 1812 papers)
  • Civil War papers
  • Civil War amnesty and pardon activities
  • records of various commissions
  • the Department of State mission to South Russia (1920)
  • the Special Interrogation Mission to Germany (1945-46)
  • the Argentine Blue Book (1945-46)
  • the missions of George C. Marshall and Albert C. Wedemeyer to China (1945-48 and 1947)
  • the Pauley Reparations Missions (1945-48)
  • the deaths of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S Truman
  • the American Revolution bicentennial celebration

Also included are the records of officials such as Charles E. Bohlen, Hubert Havlik, U. Alexis Johnson, and Myron Taylor (Personal Representative of the President to Pope Pius XII).