Teachers

Finding Primary Sources

Activity 2

Print out a copy of this page for taking notes while you follow the instructions.

Using the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

  1. Begin by searching for your topic in the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Using the search box on the left hand side of the page, type in your topic and select "Search the Guide."

    Does your search generate any results?
    ___ Yes (Continue with this activity.)

    ___ No (Either return to the activity menu page and select another activity, or search for related topics in the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States.)

  2. Write down the first result that appears on your screen here: ____________________________
    (This is the name of a record group. National Archives primary sources are arranged by numbered record groups, with each record group comprising the records of a major federal government entity. There are over 500 record groups.)

  3. Click on the first result. The page that appears begins by describing a record group in detail. It includes a history of the agency that created the described records, the record group's size, the types of records in the group (textual, photographs, motion pictures, etc.), a list of existing finding aids, related record groups, and the location of the actual records.

  4. Scroll down and read for mention of your topic. If it sounds like something you might be able to use, scroll back up to the beginning of the page and answer the following:

    1. What is the number of this record group? RG_____

    2. How many cubic feet of space do the records in this group occupy? (For your information, one cubic foot of records equals about 2,500 pages.) _______________________________________________

    3. What types of records are they (textual, photographs, motion pictures, etc.)?
      _______________________________________________

    4. Do any finding aids exist? (Finding aids are tools that provide more detailed information about records than the broad descriptions in the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Finding aids include card catalogs, publications, and databases. Many finding aids are available only at the National Archives.)
      ___ Yes ___ No

      If yes, what are their titles?
      _______________________________________________

      (Check with your local library or the university library closest to you that has a government publications section. It is possible that some of the published finding aids may be found there.)

    5. What other record groups are related to yours?
      _______________________________________________
      (You might check Guide entries for those record groups for information on your topic, too. Just start with step C again.)

    6. Are your records found in the Washington, DC, area, in a regional records service facility, or in one of the Presidential libraries?

      Click on the location of your records, and write down the following information:

      Mailing address:
      ____________________________
      ____________________________
      Director's name: ____________________________
      Telephone number: ____________________________
      E-mail address: ____________________________


    7. In order to locate and obtain copies of specific records that may be of interest to you, you must contact the National Archives facility that maintains the records you found listed in the Guide. Contact the facility using the address you wrote down in step D6 above. Use our sample letter as a guide to compose your message.

You have successfully conducted a search using the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Good for you!

There are other ways to search online for information about records at the National Archives. You can try:

Activity 1: Using Record Groups

Activity 3: Using Using the Online Catalog

Activity 4: Using the Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives

Activity 5: Using the Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives

Good luck with your project!

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272

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