Research at the National Archives

Department of State Records
Central Files 1789-1906 (RG 59)

Records

The records are divided into three main categories: Diplomatic, Consular, and Miscellaneous. Each category is further divided into a number of series, or types, of records in which the documents are generally arranged chronologically by date sent.

Diplomatic Correspondence

The Diplomatic Correspondence is arranged by country in four primary series of records:

  • Department's instructions to U.S. Ministers and Ambassadors:

    These records are available on two microfilm publications. The first is for diplomatic and consular instructions, 1791-1801, arranged chronologically (M-28, 5 rolls), and the second is for diplomatic instructions, 1801-1906, arranged by country (M-77, 175 rolls).

  • Diplomatic despatches, or reports, received in the Department of State:

    These records are available on 42 separate microfilm publications, arranged by name of the country from which the reports came.

  • Notes from the Department to Foreign Legations and Embassies in Washington:

    These records are available on one microfilm publication (M-99, 99 rolls), arranged by country.

  • Notes to the Department from Foreign Legations and Ministers and Embassies in Washington:

    These records are available on 52 separate microfilm publications arranged by name of country with which the U.S. had diplomatic representation.

Consular Correspondence

The Consular Correspondence is arranged in four series of records:

  • Department's Instructions to U.S. Consuls:

    These records are arranged in one large chronological file. The records for the period 1801-1834 are available on microfilm (M-78, 7 rolls).

  • Consular despatches, or reports, received in the Department of State:

    These records are arranged by name of city and thereunder chronologically. There is a separate microfilm publication for each city in which the United States had consular representation.

  • Notes from the Department to Foreign Consuls in the United States:

    These records, dating from 1853 to 1906, are arranged in one large chronological file. They are available on microfilm (M-663, 4 rolls).

  • Notes to the Department from Foreign Consuls in the United States:

    These records, dating from 1789 to 1906, are arranged in one large chronological file. They are available on microfilm (M-664, 11 rolls).

Miscellaneous Correspondence

This category includes records that do not come under the headings of the diplomatic and consular records. Included is correspondence with other U.S. government agencies and the public. The records are found in two series, each arranged chronologically.

  • Domestic Letters:

    This series consists of copies of letters and other communications sent by the Department of State. They are available on microfilm (M-40, 171 rolls).

  • Miscellaneous Letters:

    These are the letters andother communications received by the Department of State. They are available on microfilm (M-179, 1,310 rolls).

Finding Aids

  • Registers for diplomatic instructions and notes from the Department, 1870-1906, are on rolls 11-18 of M-17
  • Registers for diplomatic despatches and notes to the Department, 1870-1906 are on rolls 1-10 of M-17
  • Registers for consular despatches received, 1870-1906, are on rolls 19-44 of M-17
  • The registers for the Domestic Letters, 1802-1811, and 1840-1906, are on rolls 57-71 of M-17
  • The registers for the Miscellaneous Letters, 1860-1906, are on rolls 45-56 of M-17

Beginning with records for 1861, Foreign Relations of the United States can assist with locating documentation of interest.

Additional information on the Central File records for the 1789-1906 period is found in Part I of Inventory 15: Inventory of the General Records of the Department of State.

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