Navigating NARA online

Last night I gave the Tech Tuesday presentation in the virtual world Second Life discussing the US National Archives and naraRecords Administration (NARA)‘s website,  NARA is ‘the nation’s record keeper”, archiving and making available the top 1-3% of all documents created in the course of business by the US Federal government.  These records include documents pertaining to the military, government spending, the private sector, foreign policy, and more.

The website is a challenge. It offers so much information, in so many formats, and pages, and sections, and links, and on, and on, and on… It’s hard to sum it up with just a few highlights. To best experience the website, you need to plan to spend some time clicking, reading, clicking some more, and reading some more. is definitely not one of those instant gratification websites where you jump in, throw a name in a search box, and within seconds have lists of results to look through. Definitely not like that.

Don’t misunderstand – that isn’t a bad thing.  It truly is an amazing, information-rich website. The trick is not getting overwhelmed.  The home page does a great job of helping you stay focused by compartmentalizing the vast stores of knowledge into five sections to start from.  In order to keep this post to a readable length, I’ll just touch on some of the information I shared in last evening’s presentation, which focused on the first section:

1. Research Our Records

As the “nation’s recordkeepers”, NARA has millions of recordsto research, and divides this section into “Search Online” and “Research in Person”. The website has many links to information and databases through the “Resources for Genealogists” portal, many pages of instructional information on using records, and several links and pages on preparing for a trip to the archives in person.

A couple of the links that I discussed from under the “Online Exhibits” link were:

               – Discovering the Civil War:

               – National Archives Digital Vaults:

The Digital Vault link leads to an external website, with over 1,200 interactive records, organized by tags, to flip through in a visually interesting manner.

Other interesting areas in the “Research Our Records” section of the website include:

links on this page include –

> Excellent powerpoint “Genealogy Tutorial” on researching at NARA in person.

> Charts & Forms – blank documents for all census forms, including supplemental forms; Immigration forms and Military forms (draft registration, etc.)

I’ve really only touched on this section!

But wait, there’s more…

Going back to the main landing page at, the other four sections full of yet more great information are:

2. Veterans’ Service Records

3. Teacher’s Resources

4. Our Locations

5. Shop Online

I’ll leave it to you to spend some time perusing those on your own too, but please feel free to share anything wonderful that you find.



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