Yesterday I completed two reports of last Friday’s look-up research trip to the National Archives at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. I had previously done such work for several clients, and found they enjoyed hearing about the process of ordering and viewing their ancestor’s files. Here are segments from those reports:
Here’s how the day went on Friday, 8 April 2011:
I snagged a 1-hour car ride from our home in Alexandria, Virginia to the main entrance of the National Archives I building, entering on the Pennsylvania Avenue side. Checking in as a researcher requires going through metal detection screening and presenting one’s NARA Researcher card at the sign-in desk. My camera was inspected, and a new Equipment Receipt was issued to permit my carrying it further into the facility. These expire every 90 days, and it was time for this one to be renewed. The contents of all bags and backpacks are subject to search and for that reason I always travel light.
Non-essentials like hats and coats are kept in lockers near the restrooms on the main floor. I always clip the locker key to the flash drive lanyard around my neck. See: http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/washington/researcher-info.html#orientation I already have a NARA Researcher Card, so no need for the orientation and photography procedure.
I went directly to the reading room where I used the print-out of my client’s emails to complete the form requesting military pension files. In 2023, I’d still use this method, so I could make notes as necessary on the paperwork. I made the 11am pull time, which meant I could anticipate delivery of my client’s files within 60-90 minutes. I filled up the intervening time ordering federal land records, my new focus record group at this time. My goal is to learn more about them. At lunchtime, visit the Charters Café on the lower level, 1 is open to researchers from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. There’s also a small seating area with vending machines.
To enter #203 the Textual Reading Room (I call it “original documents reading room”) one takes the elevator upstairs. One must show his NARA Researcher Card, and only a few papers are permitted, a camera, laptop, and scanner. Sign in at the security desk, and before going to a workstation, each of the pages I brought with me were inspected and stamped by an employee. This expedites leaving, as those documents are clearly not stolen, as the stamp on arrival indicates. I usually print those “notes” like the client’s email request on bright orange paper, for me to easily distinguish them from other papers in my workspace.
Once checked-in to the room, I located a vacant workspace, one of four to a table (two facing two) divided by a 4-inch-high frame on three sides so my pages wouldn’t fall into the workspace of my neighbors. At all times, one’s workspace is clearly visible to the 4-6 employees who pace around the room watching researchers.
See photo at upper right of my workspace. “A” shows man working at the camera copy stand, “B” shows the glass panel separating workspaces on a table, and “C” shows a sample Hollinger box with multiple homestead files folded twice and filed vertically. The laminated “One Box One Folder” card is a place holder for a file I’ve removed from the box.
I also make a point of photographing “D” label on the box, with “E” some identification of the related ancestors name. This facilitates source citations that are made after leaving the Archives.
When leaving the Textual Reading Room, my papers were inspected and placed in a locked green zippered bag, now standard fare for all researchers. My Researcher ID Card was scanned. The process is streamlined. Now our photocopy expenses are added to that Researcher Card, so one is not juggling 2 or more cards at a time.
I retrieved my personal items from the locker room and waited in line for about 45 minutes while others ahead of me had their “green bags” opened, and other items inspected. Security is tighter than ever, but no worries. This was a productive day. I took the Metro home and survived rush hour.
SPECIFICS ABOUT A CIVIL WAR PENSION FILE LOOKUP
As I mentioned in an earlier email to my client, if the widow makes a claim, the paperwork for the deceased soldier’s pension file is included as evidence of her eligibility. With two separate numbers, it makes it seem like there would be two separate folders.
His ancestor’s file had a form on three of the four pages and was signed on what is numbered “page 6 of deposition a” but since I copied every page including blank sides of pages and remembering that I didn’t skip any pages in the file, the pages are just out of order. Hopefully, the client can piece these together from the pages in the rest of the file. [Remember, Ol’ Myrt’s lookup assignment did not analysis the information in the documents. The National Archives policy is that researchers are not to reorganize the file contents.]
SPECIFICS ABOUT A FEDERAL DESERT LAND FILE LOOK-UP
What I’ve learned from a Desert Land Claim file is that the usual “yearly proof” reports must be sent in by witnesses and the applicant, same as with federal homestead files I’ve studied. Then a final declaration of the applicant precedes the transfer of land. Pay close attention to the yearly witnesses sworn statements. I’ve seen sons-in-law swearing out such reports distinguishing the applicant from another in the area by a similar name but no relation.
It was also apparently necessary to advertise in the local newspaper and provide proof of that publication as part of the final papers for processing of the desert land claim. Some of the other files I searched had to have a signature from the local railroad if there was an easement to take into consideration.
DECLASSIFICATION OF PAGES IN A FILE
During NARA’s review of your ancestor’s file, they found several items marked “classified” and called for authority to permit me to digitize the pages. I mentioned the documents were for a federal land act of 1877 finalized in 1922. They made a few phone calls, and after about 15 minutes, they asked that I include a small slip of paper with “DECLASSIFIED ” and the date, initials and authority with each image marked classified. When I went through the file one category of declassified documents was a blueprint map of the land indicating waterways. So, keep an eye out for that tiny slip of paper on top of the images.
Russell L. Ingle entry, Desert Land Claim 877756, US Land Office, Le Grande Oregon District. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC. Record Group 49. Loose Papers. [Detail of declassification status on a blueprint map.]
My contract was to provide digital images of every page from the file and trust my client will download these pics within the next week or so, that I may clear my Dropbox space for the next project. The work I spent digitizing each ancestor’s file took about 90 minutes including the ordering of the file, camera copy stand work and 1/9th of my travel time. (I found work on eight other files.)
GOING ON YOUR OWN?
The Archives staff strongly encourages researchers interested in their records to contact them prior to visiting. Their staff can help determine if you need to visit them to access records or if there is an alternative option for you to obtain copies. Contact: Archives 1 Reference staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Center for Legislative Archives at email@example.com.