Three Updates at the National Archives

Record Group Explorer

The National Archives houses billions of pages of records, a volume so significant that researchers can easily be overwhelmed. A new tool released by the Archives makes it easier to browse those records by record group.

The Record Group Explorer first shows record groups organized by volume of textual records, from the most records to the least. Clicking on any of the record groups displayed gives more details about those records. RG 21 District Courts of the United States, for example, contains more textual records than any other record group: 1,709,570,359 pages.

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Of RG 21’s 1.7 billion pages, 6,173,707 pages have been scanned and are available online. Researchers can browse those pages by category: Textual Records, Maps and Charts, Photographs, Electronic Records, or Audiovisual files. The search engine on the browse page also allows users to search by any term, including names.

To be clear, of the Archives total of some 11.4 billion textual pages, only 96.5 million pages have been scanned and placed online to date, just 0.841%. (Remember that the next time someone asks the assumptive question, “Aren’t all records online now?”) So the 96.5 million won’t really help most of us unless our ancestor is included there. You won’t know until you look.

If your ancestor is not included in the indexed records online, the Record Group Explorer is still an excellent tool. Press the “Switch to list view” link, and the resulting list of record groups can be sorted by record group, title (alphabetically), number of textual scans online, estimated total textual pages, or the percent pages online.

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Browsing the list can be a real eye-opener for those of us who are not expert in the holdings of the National Archives. There are, after all, 603 different record groups. Getting more familiar with those record groups and their contents could provide any number of additional avenues of research, some of which you may never have considered.

Recently Added Records

Precedent Case Files, 1928–1976
(RG 118 Records of the U.S. Attorneys, 1821–1994)

“This series consists of records of selected criminal and civil cases in which the government was either plaintiff or defendant. . . . The cases deal with a wide variety of matters, including fraud against the government; draft evasion, burning of draft cards, and other violations of the Selective Service Act; damage claims against the government; tax evasion or refund claims, bribery, extortion, conspiracy, gambling and racketeering activity; land condemnation by the government; and violation of Internal Revenue, Food and Drug, and Immigration and Naturalization laws.”[1]

Wallabout Market Photographs, 3/7/1941–3/28/1941
(RG 181 Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, 1784–2000)

“This series contains photographs of Wallabout Market in Brooklyn, New York. The market was situated on the eastern edge of the New York Navy Yard from the 1880’s until June 1941. Designed by the architect William B. Tubby, the market became one of the largest in the world. As the United States began to take an active part in World War II, the Navy Yard reclaimed the Wallabout space to expand. These photographs were taken a few months before the market was closed.”[2]

World War II Records, ca. 1941–ca. 1947
(RG 407: WWII)

“This series consists of maps and charts, overlays, city plans, aerial photographs, photomaps, pencil sketches, and architectural drawings relating to the European, Mediterranean, and Pacific theaters of war during World War II. The records were prepared by Allied armies, corps, divisions, and subordinate engineer components and collected by the Adjutant General’s Office. Typical records found in this series include terrain studies, maps showing defenses, maps relating to military operations, maps showing engineer activities, maps showing roads and bridges, and maps showing administrative boundaries.”[3]

National Archives at Seattle

In a surprising move, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced on Friday 24 January 2020 that it agreed to the five-person Public Buildings Reform Board’s recommendation that the National Archives at Seattle be sold and its records dispersed between Riverside, California, and Kansas City. The decision came despite a letter to the OMB by the senators of Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Idaho, along with eight of Washington state’s ten representatives in which the recommendation was described as “flawed.” They urged the OMB to reject it.

The National Archives at Seattle houses nearly one million boxes that include all federal records generated in the Pacific Northwest, including “military, land, court, tax and census records. It contains important treaty documents relating to the 272 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.” The impending closure comes just four years after the National Archives at Anchorage was closed.[4]

The Records Preservation & Access Committee (RPAC) sent a letter on 23 January 2020 to the Public Buildings Reform Board; David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States; and Mick Mulvaney, Director, Office of Management and Budget, urging them to reject the proposal. The current decision to proceed with the sale was made just one day later.

Going forward, we’ll keep you apprised of any significant developments with this concern.


[1] Precedent Case Files, 1928–1976, National Archives Catalog ( ; accessed 27 Jan 2020).

[2] Wallabout Market Photographs, National Archives Catalog ( ; accessed 27 Jan 2020).

[3] World War II Records, ca. 1941–ca. 1947, National Archives Catalog ( ; accessed 27 Jan 2020).

[4] Erik Lacitis, “’Terrible and disgusting’: Decision to close National Archives at Seattle a blow to tribes, historians in 4 states,” Seattle Times, 25 January 2020 ( : accessed 27 Jan 2020).

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