National Archives Catalog Guide for Genealogists and Family Historians
What is in the National Archives Catalog?
The National Archives Catalog vs. Online Genealogy Databases
- The Catalog is keyword searchable like many genealogy databases.
- You can narrow searches with filters.
- The Catalog allows you to search for records in all NARA facilities – not just selected databases.
- The current focus is on breadth of NARA's holdings (at the series level) and not individual records.
- Most Catalog descriptions do not include individual names.
The National Archives holds historical U.S. government documents (federal, congressional, and presidential records) that are created or received by the President and his staff, by Congress, by employees of Federal government agencies, and by the Federal courts in the course of their official duties.
The National Archives Catalog contains descriptions for NARA's nationwide holdings in the Washington, DC area; regional facilities; and Presidential Libraries. The Catalog is a work in progress and currently contains descriptions for 95% of our records, described at the series level. This means you can find basic information about the records, including size and location, from the description. Additionally, every week we are adding more file unit and item descriptions, many of which include digital files.
Typically descriptions in the Catalog do not include individuals' names; however, the National Archives still might have records about your ancestors. It may be necessary to closely read records of interest to see if a particular individual is mentioned.
The Catalog contains many descriptions of records that are of interest to genealogists and family historians, including:
- Applications for enrollment in Native American tribes
- Court records
- Fugitive slave cases
- Land records
- Military personnel records
- Naturalization records
- Federal employees
How Do I Search in the National Archives Catalog?
The Catalog contains descriptions of records held by the National Archives. Researchers can conduct keyword searches and filtered searched in the Catalog.
To perform a simple keyword search:
- Go to https://catalog.archives.gov
- Enter some keywords of your choice in the search box in the center of the page. If you are looking for an exact phrase using two or more words, put them in quotation marks example: “bounty land”
- Press the magnifying glass button to run your search.
- When hits are returned for your search, the results will be returned starting with best results at the top. Use the filters on the left side to narrow down your results.
- Tips for Using Filters
- Are you looking only for a photograph? Select Photographs and Other Graphic Materials
- Many of our descriptions do not include digital images of the records, click on the filter Archival Descriptions with Digital Objects to see only descriptions with images attached
- Tips for Using Filters
- To view a description, click on the blue title. View our video Anatomy of a Description to learn about the features of a description.
Tips for Searching for an Individual's Name
There isn't a specific field for names in the Catalog; as a result you many need to try several different searches using different strategies when searching for a name.
- Search on the person's full name in first name-last name order.
- Search on the surname only. The records might only include a first initial or a variant spelling of the first name.
- Search on variant spellings of the surname using OR, for example: Luchetti OR Lucetti.
- Search on variant spellings of the first name, including "Americanized" versions, for example: Joseph Maggio OR Guiseppe Maggio.
- Keep in mind that most descriptions in the National Archives Catalog do not include the names of individuals in that record. However, the National Archives still might have records about your ancestors. If you know an individual participated in event, search for that search term and look within the records for your ancestor.
Tips for Searching by Topics
One of the best ways to identify records of genealogical interest in the National Archives Catalog is by topic. If you find a description without digital images attached in the National Archives Catalog, that may contain records about your ancestor, contact the staff in that unit. The contact information appears in the Contact(s) section at the bottom of the description.
In these examples, we use quotations in Catalog searches around multiple words, phrases or words that we want to appear exactly as we have written them. For more in depth information on how to search the Catalog visit National Archives Catalog Search Tips.
Follow the Clues!
The family history research you already compiled could contain valuable clues. Use these clues to identify National Archives records that would be useful to your research and go beyond the most common genealogical sources.
Clue: A significant decrease in income appears when you compare your ancestor's net worth between the 1860 Census and 1870 Census.
Records Worth Checking: Bankruptcy court records might contain a file on your ancestor. The Bankruptcy Act of 1867 allowed greater numbers of people to file for voluntary bankruptcy. Search in the National Archives Catalog for bankruptcy AND [state where you ancestor lived at the time].
Clue: You find a passenger list with your ancestor's name on it, and there is a Board of Special Inquiry stamp.
Records Worth Checking: The records of an Immigration and Naturalization Service inquiry might exist for your ancestor. Records related to deportation are also a possibility. Search in the National Archives Catalog for immigration AND "special inquiry".
Clue: Your ancestor was tried for a crime.
Records Worth Checking: A criminal case file might exist for the U.S. District Court in the state where your ancestor committed the crime. If your ancestor served a sentence in a Federal prison, there might be an inmate case file in the records of that Federal prison. Search in the National Archives Catalog for "criminal case" OR inmate.
Many genealogists and researchers may find these detailed search pages helpful
- Resources for Genealogists https://www.archives.gov/research/genealogy
- Census Records https://www.archives.gov/research/census
- Deck Logs https://www.archives.gov/research/military/logbooks/navy-online
- Dawes Rolls https://www.archives.gov/research/native-americans/dawes/tutorial/intro.html
- Land Records https://www.archives.gov/research/land
- Military Service Records https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records#toc-instructions
- Office of Strategic Services (OSS) https://www.archives.gov/research/military/ww2/oss
- Alien Files (A-Files) https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/aliens/a-files-kansas-city.html
- Naturalization https://www.archives.gov/research/naturalization/naturalization.html
- Microfilm Publications and Original Records Digitized by Our Digitization Partners https://www.archives.gov/digitization/digitized-by-partners
- Record Reproductions and Microfilm https://eservices.archives.gov/orderonline/
Frequently Asked Questions
The National Archives has billions of records and that number grows larger every year. We are carefully and systematically digitizing our records to include in the National Archives Catalog. Tens of millions are already available in the Catalog. Luckily more and more records are arriving from government agencies already in a digital format, which helps to accelerate their ingest into the Catalog.
In general naturalization records are not available online. They are held in our regional archives. Contact the reference staff that holds the records of the state where the citizen lived when naturalized.
When requesting a search, please provide the full name of the person and, if known, their date of birth, the city/state they were living at the time of naturalization, date they naturalized, and spouse's name, if they had one. All of this information helps to narrow the search and to confirm the correct record has been found. Once the record is located, the staff will provide you with information about the record and instructions on ordering copies.
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee
The National Archives at Atlanta
5780 Jonesboro Road
Morrow, Georgia 30260
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont
The National Archives at Boston
380 Trapelo Road
Waltham, Massachusetts 02452-6399
Toll Free Telephone: (866) 406-2379
Telephone: (781) 663-0144
Fax: (781) 663-0154
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin
The National Archives at Chicago
7358 South Pulaski Road
Chicago, IL 60629-5898
Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota (after 1972), South Dakota (after 1972), Utah, Wyoming
The National Archives at Denver
17101 Huron Street, Broomfield, CO 80023
Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas
The National Archives at Fort Worth
1400 John Burgess Drive, Fort Worth, TX 76140
Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota (before 1972), and South Dakota (before 1972)
The National Archives at Kansas City
400 West Pershing Road
Kansas City, MO 64108
New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands
The National Archives at New York City
One Bowling Green, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10004
Toll-free: 1-866-840-1752 or 212-401-1620
Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia
The National Archives at Philadelphia
14700 Townsend Road
Philadelphia, PA 19154-1096
Southern California, Arizona and Clark County, Nevada
National Archives at Riverside
23123 Cajalco Road
Perris, CA 92570-7298
Fax: (951) 956-2049
California (northern and central), Nevada (except Clark County), Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, former Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands i.e. Marshall, Caroline, and Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Navy bases on foreign territory in the Pacific and Far East
The National Archives at San Francisco
Leo J. Ryan Memorial Federal Building
1000 Commodore Drive
San Bruno, California 94066-2350
Phone: (650) 238-3501
Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington
National Archives at Seattle
6125 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, Washington 98115-7999
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