US records in the Washington, DC area
There are many repositories of archived records in the Washington, DC area, each one maintaining its own set of regulations and hours of access. Often, within a given institution, there are different rules and hours of access for each collection. Copying rules can vary from place to place: some collections allow scanning of records using flatbed scanners, and, at least one, the USDA National Agricultural Library allows scanning of certain records using rapid auto-feeding scanners. Some repositories allow photography under light stands and others do not. However, compared to archival access in other countries, there is extremely good access to U.S. government records.
The US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
The main National Archives building (herein NA1) is located in downtown Washington, DC on Pennsylvania Avenue between Congress and the White House across from the US Navy Memorial. While it is impossible to generalize on the historical records it holds, it is home to many military and other records created before WWII, and while the understanding staff is first class, it can be a cramped place to work.
Far more historical material can be found at the large modern and roomy National
Archives (NA2) building in College Park, Maryland. This building contains five floors accessible to researchers and, as such, may be the National Archives(NA2), College Park largest and best-organized archive on the planet. There are several types types of records held at the National Archives in various media, including written textual records, microfilms, photographs, audio and video recordings as well as several databases. Here are some of the records that I have worked in at NA2:
- Civilian records dealing with foreign policy, including State Department, USIA, USAID records.
- Civilian records of domestic-oriented agencies, including many entities that no longer exist, such as those created by the FDR administrations.
- Law Enforcement records (historical). FBI records are listed by a “case number.” If the researcher only has a name and doesn’t have a case number, that number must be requested from the FBI through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The FBI has a very quick turnaround with this type of request – almost always within a few weeks of submitting the subject’s name through a FOIA request. Other Federal law enforcement records are available, including Federal Bureau of Narcotics records.
- Military records from all branches BUT no DD214’s (Reports of Separation) after 1917. Post WWI DD214s are held at the St. Louis facility. If you are not the veteran or next of kin, you must fill out a SF-180 to receive records.
- WWI, WWII and Korean War personnel records from the NARA St. Louis facility: I highly recommend contacting Geoff Gentilini’s Golden Arrow Military Research specializes in research of U.S. Military Veterans who served during WWI, WWII and the Korean War. It has unparalleled access to daily unit records – including morning reports, rosters, personnel files, medical records and court martial transcripts – which allow them to trace the steps of individual soldiers to show you where they were and what they did during their service.
- Intelligence records from the the CIA and its precursors (COI, OSS, SSU, and CIG)and DoD entities such as ONI,MI-8 (MID), (better known as the G-2), and the CIC. Records from the National Security Agency are also available.
- Captured German records – both military and civilian from the early 1700s through the fall of Nazi Germany. The post-WWI records contain SA, SD and SS records as well as Abwehr records. All are on microfilm.
- Hundreds of thousands of photographs, including surveillance photographs taken by German spy planes and bombers over Eastern Europe and Russia during WWII. US Signal Corps collection is superb and contains images from all of the US’s imperialist interventions the world over.
- National Security Archive database (Digital National Security Archive -DNSA). This usually involves querying the database with a series of subjects, names, etc.
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress, besides probably being the largest library in the world, also contains collections of letters of hundreds of diplomats, artists and others. It is presently open for research. Go to our Library of Congress page.
|–||National Institutes of Health (NIH)|
|–||Navy History and Heritage Command, Navy Yard, Washington, DC|