Resources for Genealogists

Frequently Asked Questions

Using this Web Site for your Research

Are You in the Archives?

Federal records are a treasure chest of genealogical information, and there’s a good chance you or one of your family is represented among our holdings.

Each year, millions of people use records in the National Archives to search for their family roots. Census schedules, ship passenger arrival lists, citizenship papers, military pension files, land patents, and court records offer detailed evidence to flesh out family histories.

In-depth family history research is time consuming. But with patience, you might unearth a wealth of documentation.

You can read the scenarios below to find out the likelihood that you or an individual you are researching would have records that are preserved in the National Archives.

How can I use the NARA web site for genealogy research?

We have arranged the Genealogy section of the website by research topics, or types of records available to search. From the Research Topics pages, you will find links to pages throughout the web site with articles, finding aids, and other helpful information to help you prepare for your genealogical research at the National Archives.

The records in our holdings that are most commonly used by genealogists include:

While you will not find the actual records online, you will find finding aids online, such as microfilm indexes, and information on how to conduct research in the different types of records.

For an introduction to the Genealogy section of our web site, you may first want to review the Genealogical Resources at the National Archives page, and About Genealogy and Family History Research.


What genealogical records are online?

Please visit "What You Can Do Here" to get an overview of research that can be done on this website.

Note: Digitized images of many National Archives holdings with genealogical interest are available online through the subscription-based websites of and (formerly There is unlimited access to these services, free-of-charge, from any NARA facility nationwide.

What records does the National Archives have that can help me with my family history research?

Some of the most useful records in NARA's holdings for genealogical research are:

Census Records, (from 1790-1930):
The Federal Population Census has been taken every 10 years, beginning in 1790. The National Archives has the census schedules on microfilm available from 1790 to 1930. (Note: Most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a Department of Commerce fire, though partial records are available for some states.) There is a 72-year restriction on access to population census schedules, which is why 1930 is the latest year currently available.

Census records can provide the building blocks of your research, allowing you to both confirm information, and to learn a lot more. From 1790-1840 only the head of household is listed, (along with the number of household members in different age groups). However, beginning with 1850, details are provided for all individuals in households.

Depending upon the census year, some of the information that the records may provide includes:

  • the names of family members
  • their ages at a certain point in time
  • their state or country of birth
  • their parent's birthplaces
  • year of immigration
  • their street address
  • marriage status and years of marriage
  • occupation(s)
  • value of their home and personal belongings
  • the crops that they grew (in agricultural schedules), etc.

Read more about Census Records

Immigration (Ship Passenger Lists):

The National Archives has immigration records, also known as "ship passenger arrival records," for arrivals to the United States between 1820 and 1982. Records are arranged by Port of Arrival. (Pre-1820 records may be on file at the port of entry or at the state archives in the state where the port is located.)

Immigration records may provide genealogists with information such as:

  • one's nationality, place of birth
  • ship name and date of entry to the United States
  • age, height, eye and hair color
  • profession
  • place of last residence
  • name and address of relatives they are joining in the U.S.
  • amount of money they are carrying, etc.

Read more about Immigration Records


Land Records:
The land records that are generally of most interest to genealogists are the land entry case files. These are records that document the transfer of public lands from the U.S. Government to private ownership. There are over ten million such individual land transactions in the custody of the National Archives. These case files cover land entries in all 30 public land states.

Land case entry files can contain a wealth of genealogical and legal information. Depending upon the type and time period of the land entry, the case file may yield only a few facts already known to the researcher or it may present new insights about ancestors, family history, title, and land use issues. For example, the records may attest to the one's age, place of birth, citizenship, military service, literacy, and economic status, and may even include similar information about family members. But even the smallest case files can establish locations of land ownership or settlement and dates essential to utilize other resources at NARA, such as census, court, and military service and pension records.

Read more about Land Records


Military Service and Pension, 1775-1902:
The National Archives holds Federal military service records from the Revolutionary War to 1912 in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. Military records from WWI - present are held in the National Military Personnel Records Center (NPRC), in St. Louis, Missouri.

The most commonly requested military-related records used by genealogists are: Compiled Military Service Records for Volunteers, Pension Applications and Pension Payment Records, and Bounty Land Records. These records can often provide valuable information on the veteran, as well as on all members of the family. For example:

  • Compiled service records will provide you with your ancestor's rank, unit, date mustered in and mustered out, basic biographical information, medical information, and military information.
  • Pension application files usually provide the most genealogical information. These files often contain supporting documents such as: narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family Bibles, letters received from the veteran while in service, depositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting papers.
  • Bounty land records, from claims based on wartime service between 1775 and March 3, 1855, often contain documents similar to those in pension files, with lots of genealogical information. Many of the bounty land application files relating to Revolutionary War and War of 1812 service have been combined with the pension files.

There is no simple explanation for how to begin research in military records. Your research path will depend on aspects such as: what branch of service your ancestor was in, which conflict, what dates, whether Regular Army or a volunteer unit, whether your ancestor was an officer or enlisted personnel, and whether there was a pension application.

Read more about Military Records


Naturalization Records:
The National Archives in Washington, D.C. holds naturalization records for Federal Courts. Prior to 1906, any municipal, county, state, or Federal court could grant U.S. citizenship, so you may need to contact the relevant State Archives to search in these records as well.

Naturalization records can provide a researcher with information such as a person's birth date and location, occupation, immigration year, marital status and spouse information, witnesses' names and addresses, and more.

Read more about Naturalization Records

For the entire list of frequently-used records in family history research please see the Research Topics page.

How can I access these records?

It is often best to visit the National Archives in person to conduct your research. Archival research sometimes is difficult and can take many hours to complete. However, if you can not visit us at one of our research facilities nationwide, you can:

How can I obtain copies of records?

There are different procedures for ordering, depending on what type of records you are ordering. The Obtain Reproductions page has links to information on how to order various types of military service and family history records.

For some records, such as Federal military pension application files, individual census pages, and land files, you can now order online.

For other records, you can request an order form to be mailed to you.


How do I cite NARA as a source in my research?

Please see our paper entitled Citing Records in the National Archives of the United States. It offers guidelines for citing unpublished records that are held in the National Archives in the Washington, DC area, in the Regional facilities, the Presidential Libraries system, and Affiliated Archives. The guidelines cover citations to textual records, microform records, nontextual archives (i.e., photographic records, posters, motion pictures, tape recordings, cartographic records, and architectural drawings), electronic records, and online references.


Can NARA do research for me?

At a National Archives Research Room, staff are available to ask questions and can help point you in the right direction to a finding aid or other resource for you to conduct your own research. If you need someone to do research for you, hiring an independent researcher on your behalf can be a good option. Find an Independent Researcher for Hire

Are You in the Archives?

My family emigrated to the United States at the end of the 19th century and arrived at Ellis Island.
Are they in the Archives?

It’s likely. The National Archives holds hundreds of thousands of microfilmed copies of ship passenger arrival lists for 1820 to about 1954.

These lists cover ships arriving in New York City and other ports of entry. Arrival lists contain the name of the ship, names of the ports of arrival and embarkation, and date of arrival. They usually include name, place of birth, age, occupation, sex, and remarks about each passenger.
(49 words)

I was born in the United States in 1929.

Am I in the Archives?

It’s likely. The National Archives holds the 1930 census schedules listing 123 million Americans living in the United States at that time.
We also hold census schedules for every decennial census—those taken every 10 years—since the first was taken in 1790. Census schedules from 1790 to 1930 are available on microfilm in Washington, DC, and at our regional archives.

One of my ancestors fought in the American Revolution.
Is he in the Archives?

Probably. The National Archives holds compiled military service records for soldiers who fought for the colonies in the Revolutionary War.
These records show the name, the beginning and ending rank of each soldier, and the company and regiment in which he served. The records may also show the dates of service and amount of pay or bounty and note if the soldier deserted or died in service.

My great-grandfather registered for the draft during World War I.
Is he in the Archives?

Maybe. Several of our regional archives, especially the one in Atlanta, Georgia, hold materials from the World War I draft registrations.
World War I draft records include registration cards, docket books, and classification lists.

I wrote a letter to the President for a school project when I was ten years old.
Am I in the Archives?

Maybe. The 12 Presidential libraries and projects around the country hold the personal papers of the President—including letters from children.
The National Archives administers the Presidential libraries and projects, which also hold the official records of the Presidency and the personal papers of the First Lady and the President’s associates. Among these records are millions of pieces of correspondence. When you visit a library, you can tour the museum or do research in the archives.

My parents spent World War II in a relocation center for Japanese Americans.
Are they in the Archives?

It’s likely. The National Archives holds the records of the War Relocation Agency, which carried out the removal of about 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry.
These Japanese Americans were relocated from the western United States to camps away from the Pacific coast. Records from wartime relocation include evacuee case files, plans of the camps, photographs, and even high school yearbooks.

My great aunt became an U.S. citizen in the 1940s.
Is she in the Archives?

It’s likely. Federal naturalization records in the National Archives are held among district court records at our regional archives facilities.
Naturalization records may contain declarations of intention to become a citizen, passenger arrival certificates, petitions for citizenship, and depositions.

My grandfather served aboard an U.S. battleship in World War II.
Is he in the Archives?

Probably. The National Archives holds the muster rolls for Navy ships from January 1, 1939–January 1, 1949.
These muster rolls take up nearly 20,000 rolls of microfilm. In addition, we also hold approximately 22,000 deck logs for Navy ships from 1941–50. The muster rolls often list a serviceman’s service number, date of enlistment, and the date he joined the ship’s crew.

My great-great-grandparents homesteaded in the American West during the late 19th century.
Are they in the Archives?

Maybe. The National Archives holds millions of land entry case files under the Homestead Act of 1862.
The Homestead Act allowed any U.S. citizen 21 years of age or older to claim 160 acres of public land after paying a small registration fee and improving the land. A complete homestead file contains an application, certificate of publication of intention, homestead proof, and final certificate. In these files, researchers can often find the name of the homesteader, place of residence, number of family members, crops raised, and number of acres under cultivation.

My mother survived the Holocaust.
Is she in the Archives?

Maybe. The National Archives holds one of the largest collections of Holocaust materials in the world.
These materials include records captured from the Nazis at the end of World War II and evidence used during war crime trials. Among our Holocaust-related records are transport lists, camp rosters, inmate personnel cards, claims for stolen property, and refugee interviews. They can be used to trace an individual’s history before, during, and after World War II. The quantity and accessibility of these records varies from camp to camp.

One of my ancestors received a widow’s pension for her husband’s Civil War military service.
Is she in the Archives?

Probably. The National Archives holds pension application files for Union Army, Navy, and Marine Corps veterans and their widows.
These files may contain information such as the serviceman’s name, rank, company and regiment, description of wounds, and affidavits of comrades and friends. The files may also include dates of death for the serviceman and his widow, proof of their marriage, and names and ages of their children under 16, as well as documents relating to the termination of pensions.

My grandfather worked for the Federal Government for 40 years.
Is he in the Archives?

It’s likely, depending on the dates. The Civilian Personnel Records Center holds employment folders for most Federal employees whose service ended after about 1910.
Administered by the National Archives, this records center is located in St. Louis, Missouri. Records less than 75 years old are closed for personal privacy. The National Archives in Washington, DC, holds employment records such as letters of application and recommendations of agencies such as the Justice, State, and Treasury Departments. These records date, for the most part, from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

My great-uncle served in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression.
Is he in the Archives?

Maybe. The Civilian Personnel Records Center holds the personnel records for men who joined the CCC between 1935 and 1939.

Located in St. Louis, Missouri, this records center is administered by the National Archives. Like all Federal personnel records, those of CCC members are closed for 75 years or until the death of the individual. The National Archives at College Park, Maryland, holds the CCC’s administrative records.

My grandmother served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) or the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II.
Is she in the Archives?

Possibly. World War II Army Enlistment Records, ca. 1938-1946, online in the National Archives "Access to Archival Databases (AAD)" include approximately 141,000 Women’s Army Corps (WAC) enlistees.
However, the related service record may not exist. The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which maintains the personnel files of World War II servicemen and women, had a fire in 1973.

It destroyed about 80 percent of the records for personnel discharged between November 1, 1912, and January 1, 1960—including records of women who served during the war.

However, if a woman remained in the Army after 1960, or later enlisted in the Air Force, and her name falls between A and Hubbard, her record could have survived. The Records Center can often document a veteran’s eligibility for benefits by using auxiliary records to reconstruct her military service record.

My grandfather received a patent for one of his inventions.
Is he in the Archives?

It’s likely. Among textual records at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, are more than 2.7 million patent case files from 1836 to 1956.
A complete patent case file usually contains an application, a patent drawing, the patent examiner’s notes on the application, and a record of fees paid. Patent drawings often contain multiple views of a device and note its mechanical parts.

My great-grandmother was a suffragist.
Is she in the Archives?

Possibly, but hard to find. The Center for Legislative Archives has thousands of petitions and memorials with signatures supporting and opposing voting rights for women.
Addressed to Congress, these petitions date from 1860 to 1920. They are not indexed by name or location, and locating an individual signature is extremely difficult. The center is administered by the National Archives and holds the records of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The names of suffrage advocates can also be found among Federal court records, but finding a specific name is a demanding search.

I was a plaintiff in a landmark civil rights case.
Am I in the Archives?

It’s likely, if the case was in the Federal courts. The National Archives holds case files from the records of U.S. District Courts, 1790– 1980.
These records are held in the Washington, DC, area and in our regional archives facilities throughout the nation. These case files include criminal, equity, law, bankruptcy, admiralty, naturalization, and antitrust cases. Case files may contain court filings, exhibits entered into court, verdicts, and sentencing documents.

One of my ancestors was a Buffalo Soldier.
Is he in the Archives?

It’s likely. The National Archives holds records relating to the military service of the Buffalo Soldiers.
The Buffalo Soldiers were African Americans who served in the U.S. Army in the American West after the Civil War. We also hold the unit records of the African American Army units, such as the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantries.

One of my ancestors attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.
Is he in the Archives?

Possibly. Because some schools for Native Americans were under the Federal Government’s jurisdiction, the National Archives holds their administrative files.

Student records for these schools are part of the administrative files. School records include grade reports, disciplinary actions, newspaper clippings, photographs, and information such as addresses and names of relatives.

One of my ancestors served with the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) during the Civil War.
Is he in the Archives?

It’s likely. Compiled military service records for individuals who served in the USCT are among the records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s–1917.
These records usually include the individual’s name, rank, dates of service, occupation, and pay received. Regimental records of USCT units also contain valuable information on individuals who served, such as orders, correspondence, enlistment records, and morning reports.

One of my ancestors was a postmaster in our town during the late 19th century.
Is he in the Archives?

It's likely. The National Archives holds the registers of appointments of postmasters for the years 1815–1971.
Researchers may also find information regarding appointments for the years 1789–1818 in the quarterly account statements sent to the Postmaster General by local postmasters. Registers of appointments may contain the names of postmasters, their dates of appointment, changes in the post office name, and information on the discontinuance or reestablishment of the post office.

One of my ancestors fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Is he in the Archives?

Probably. The National Archives holds the compiled military service records of Confederate officers, non-commissioned officers, and enlisted men.
The War Department compiled these records between 1903 and 1927 from documents captured by Union forces and from Union prison and parole records. Confederate compiled military service records contain the name of the serviceman and sometimes his residence, where and when he enlisted, and his occupation. The records may also contain information about a serviceman’s imprisonment and parole or, if he died in prison, the date of his death.

My great-grandfather traveled abroad extensively.
Is he in the Archives?

It’s likely, depending on the dates. The National Archives has passport records from 1790–1949, including passport applications from 1795–March 31, 1925.
Passport application records usually contain the applicant’s name, signature, date and place of birth, marital status, date and place of naturalization (if foreign born), place of residence, and physical description. They also give the names or number of persons intending to travel and the date and destination of travel. For December 1914–25, a photograph of the applicant accompanies the application.

My great-uncle died in World War I and is buried in France.
Is he in the Archives?

It’s likely. The Army Quartermaster records include burial files with forms asking next of kin to state where they wished to bury their family member.
The National Archives, which holds the Army Quartermaster records, also preserves case files for more than 100,000 servicemen who were buried overseas or whose remains were returned to the United States for burial. In addition, we hold maps and plans of American military cemeteries in Europe that contain the names and serial numbers of military personnel buried there.

My great-grandmother was baptized in a church near Cleveland, Ohio.
Is her baptismal record in the Archives?

It’s highly unlikely. The National Archives holds Federal Government records, not records of private organizations such as churches, synagogues, or mosques.
It is rare to find religious records such as baptismal certificates in the National Archives.

Where, then?
Baptismal and other religious records can sometimes be found at the local institution where the ceremony was held or at a central denominational archives. They are occasionally held at state or local archives or historical societies.

I need to find my parents’ birth certificates and marriage license.
Are these records in the Archives?

It’s highly unlikely. Records in the National Archives reflect the interaction of individuals with the Federal Government.

Recording births, deaths, and marriages is a function of local government. It is rare to find this kind of information among records in the National Archives.

Where, then?
Birth certificates and marriage licenses can usually be obtained through county and state agencies such as the county clerk, bureau of vital statistics, and state or local archives. Information on births may also be found in family records such as family Bibles, baby books, and birth announcements.

One of my ancestors was an official with the colonial government of Rhode Island in the 1760s.
Does the Archives hold any records about his service?

It’s highly unlikely. The records in the National Archives document the actions of the Federal Government.

The colonial period of American history is not well documented in the National Archives. Very few of our records predate the Revolutionary War.

Where, then?
Records relating to colonial governments are generally held at state archives, in historical societies of the former colony, and in the country that had authority over the colony. Information about colonial officials may also be found through hereditary societies such as the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Colonial Dames of America.

I am trying to locate a copy of my grandmother’s last will and testament.
Is it in the Archives?

It’s highly unlikely. The National Archives holds records relating to Federal, not county, Government.
It is rare to find wills among our records.

Where, then?
Most wills are filed for probate in the county or other locality where the individual was residing at the time he or she passed away. They may be found in county offices and in state or local archives.