About the National Archives

Remarks of Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero at the Independence Day Ceremony, National Archives Building, Washington, DC

July 4, 2012

Who is the Archivist?

David S. Ferriero
David S. Ferriero The Archivist of the United States is the head of our agency, appointed by the President of the United States.

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What's an Archivist?

Good morning!  Thanks for joining us on the steps of the National Archives on this the 236th anniversary of the day the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence!

Each year, we celebrate the Fourth of July with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a document on display in this beautiful building behind me.

Our doors opened in 1935 with a mission which has remained unchanged over the years—to collect, protect, and to promote the use of the records of our government. Thomas Jefferson’s words are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them in a letter from Paris in 1797:

“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government…that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

An informed citizenry is at the heart of what we do—rooted in the belief that citizens have the right to see, examine, and learn from the records that guarantee their rights, document government actions, and tell the story of the nation.

Today that collection translates into about 12 billion sheets of paper, 42 million photographs, miles and miles of video and film, and more than 5 billion electronic records—as you can imagine the fastest growing category of records.  12 billion pieces of paper is 1.4m trees.  Laid end to end, 12 billion pieces of paper would circle the globe 84 times. And these records are here for you to help you be an informed citizen. 

This year, along with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, we have four special guests who will be reading the Declaration. They are all descendants of the original Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Laura Belman and her son John are descended from three Signers—Samuel Chase of Maryland, William Ellery of Rhode Island and Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut.  Michael Miller is descended from Signer Colonel William Williams of Connecticut. 

And Laura Murphy is descended from Philip Livingston of New York.  By signing this document, their ancestors became wanted men, traitors to the King. Just think of the courage it took to sign the Declaration, and how important independence from England meant for them to risk their lives.

By the end of the Revolutionary War, more than half of the Signers suffered direct, personal consequences for their support of American Independence. We have the Signers to thank for the freedom we enjoy today. 

These descendants have learned much about their ancestors.  If you would like to learn more about your family history you are just steps away from Family History Central!   People visit us daily to search for their own ancestors. In our research rooms across the country, people comb through these records to piece together details of their family histories.

The records we hold are for the American people. You never know…you may be related to a Signer as well! National Archives records can help you discover your history.

Recently, we opened a new exhibition called “Attachments: Faces and Stories from America’s Gates.” Using original documents and photographs that were once “attached” to government forms, this exhibit tells the stories of 31 men, women, and children who found themselves at the gateways to America between 1880 and the end of World War II.

You will discover dramatic tales of joy and disappointment, opportunity and discrimination, deceit and honesty. You can learn about these stories through original documents and images, and look into the eyes of the immigrants through large photomural portraits. At the end of this ceremony, please come inside and check out this wonderful exhibit. It may inspire your own family research!

Now I would like to introduce our keynote speaker, the chair and president of the Foundation for the National Archives, A’Lelia Bundles.

After a 30-year career as a network television news producer and executive with ABC News and NBC News, A’Lelia Bundles now is president of the Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives, the largest private collection of Walker photographs, business records, letters, clothing, furniture, and personal artifacts. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, her best-selling biography of her great-great-grandmother, was named a New York Times Notable Book. She is currently at work on her third book, Joy Goddess of Harlem: The Life and Times of A’Lelia Walker, a biography of her great-grandmother.

In addition to her work with the Foundation for the National Archives, Bundles serves as a Columbia University trustee, and she is on the board of the Madam Walker Theatre Center of Indianapolis, and on the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library Council at Harvard.

Please welcome A'Lelia Bundles!

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