Finding Primary Sources
Sample Letter

Here is a sample letter for guiding your own request to the National Archives and Records Administration. Remember, the more specific your request, the better.

[Return Address]

Dear Archivist:

I am a student participating in National History Day. My topic is Amelia Earhart. According to entry 237.2 in the Guide to Federal Records at the National Archives, textual records related to this topic exist in the Records of the Aeronautics Branch and the Bureau of Air Commerce, 1922-38, of the Federal Aviation Administration.

I would like more information about these records. I know that the textual records in this group occupy over 1,500 cubic feet of space and that a finding aid entitled Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Civil Aeronautics Administration NC6 (1962) exists. Unfortunately, I do not have access to this publication. Could you look at it for me and describe the records that exist pertaining to Amelia Earhart? I also need to know how much the National Archives charges for photocopies. When I determine which records will be useful for my project, I will be back in touch.

Thank you for your attention to this request.


[Your name]

National History Day Student


Now it is your turn:


[Return Address]

Dear Archivist at the National Archives:

I am a student participating in National History Day. My topic is _________________. According to entry number __(cite number)____in the ______________(cite reference source)___________, records related to this topic exist in the Records of the _______(cite name of record group)_______.

[If your search for information led you to a specific item, cite the item and ask for information about obtaining a copy. If your search for information led you to a series of records that contain or may contain information of interest to you, ask for a search of those records for documentation pertaining to your topic. The more specific your request the better the chances of locating documentation useful to you. For example, instead of asking for records about the U.S. Navy during World War II, ask for the log of a specific ship (including ship name or hull number) for a specific date span. Rather than requesting records documenting the nation's Westward Expansion, ask for maps of the Oregon Trail, architectural drawings of Fort Laramie, photographs or drawings from the Hayden expedition, etc. ]

[If your search for information produced no helpful results then phrase a request for documentation that is as specific as possible. Specific requests read like the following: I would like a VHS videotape copy of motion picture footage of the lift-off and splashdown of Apollo 13; I would like copies of photographs of the Yalta Conference during World War II; I would like copies of maps of the battlefield at Gettysburg; I would like audiocassette copies of sound recordings of the oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, October 11, 1972; I would like copies of nautical charts and soil erosion maps of the area surrounding Point Lookout, MD, for a specific date span; I would like copies of documentation pertaining to the awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Sgt. Alvin York in World War I; or I would like copies of aerial photographs of Salt Lake City, UT around 1940.]

Thank you for your attention to this request.


[Your Name]


You can send your letter to the addresses you found during Activities 1, 2, 3, 4,or 5. If you don't have a specific address, the general address for reference requests is National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001, or you can e-mail it to inquire@nara.gov.

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