Research Our Records

Using the National Archives Catalog

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) acquires, preserves, and makes available for research the records of enduring value that were created or received by organizations of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government. Records in the custody of the National Archives date from pre-federal times to the present. Most of the records are textual, but they can come in a wide variety of media, such as microfilm, maps and charts, architectural and engineering plans, aerial photographs, motion picture reels, video recordings, sound recordings, computer data sets, or still pictures.

What won't I find at the National Archives?

We do not hold records of state, county, city, or town governments, or of churches or other private institutions. Therefore, we do not have:

  • Vital records - These most commonly refer to records such as birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees, wills, and the like. These records are created by local authorities, with possible exceptions for events overseas, in the military, or in the District of Columbia. They are not considered Federal records; therefore, they are not held by NARA.
  • Information about applying for tribal membership. Membership is determined by the individual tribes.
  • Records from state or county courts.
  • State militia records. For these records, you will need to contact the appropriate State Archives.
  • Information to help locate living individuals. The records in the custody of the National Archives are usually at least 20-30 years old, and information on living individuals is protected by the Privacy Act.