Department of State Research Topics
Department of State Records
Central Files February 1963-1973: Subject-Numeric File (RG 59)
Beginning in February 1963, the central file is arranged according to a subject-numeric filing scheme. In general, the records are arranged by subject and thereunder by country. The records are divided into four chronological file segments:
- February-December 1963
The files include telegrams, airgrams, instructions, diplomatic notes, reports, correspondence, memorandums, and related documentation. In July 1973, telegrams became part of the State Archiving System, the next iteration of the Department's central files. Hardcopy documents, such as airgrams and memorandums continue in the Subject-Numeric File through December 31, 1973.
While the basic organizational concept of the Subject-Numeric File remains the same across the four blocks of files (1963, 1964-66, 1967-69, and 1970-73), the 1963 segment served as a prototype for the new filing system. The Department instituted changes beginning with the 1964 files. Even though the revisions went into effect in 1964, the Department did not issue a new filing manual until 1965. The revisions include changes and rearrangements in the broad categories and primary subjects, added subject matter coverage, and changes in country designators.
Records are arranged in the following manner:
Broad categories. The records are divided into eight broad subject classes:
- Culture & Information
- Political & Defense
- Special (international organizations and conferences).
Primary subjects. Each broad subject class is divided into a number of primary subjects (for a total of 56) represented by abbreviations, which form the first element of the file number. For example, the Political & Defense subject class is divided into four primary subjects: CSM (Communism), DEF (Defense), INT (Intelligence), and POL (Political Affairs & Relations). The primary subject is the first element of the file designation for documents and the first level on which the records are organized.
Country, area, or organization. Records are further broken down by the country or region or organization. Country, region, and organization names may be spelled out in full or they may be abbreviated using a common abbreviation (USSR for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and UN for the United Nations) or the first few letters of the name (POL for Poland and KOR N for North Korea). For many of the primary subjects there also are general files that are not broken down by country, area, or organization. While the country, area, or organization is the second level on which files are organized, it is the third element of the file designation for a given document.
Subject number. Within each primary subject, records are further divided by subject according to a pre-determined numerical file designation such as 15-1 (Head of State. Executive Branch) that appear between the primary subject abbreviation and the country or area abbreviation. For example, the file number POL 15-1 SWE is for documents about political affairs and relations (POL) is Sweden (SWE), specifically about the Swedish Prime Minister (15-1). While the subject number is the second element of the file designation for a document, it is the third level on which the records are organized.
Date. Documents under each file number are generally filed in reverse chronological order. In those cases where there are multiple folders for records under one file designator, the folders are filed in rough chronological order from earliest to latest.
File numbers. File numbers are made up of a combination of first, the primary subject; second, the subject number; and third, the country designator. The file numbers on documents no longer include an enclosure number, as with the pre-July 1944 documents, or a date-file number, as with the post-June 1944 documents. It is, therefore, critical that source citations include the date of the document as well as information such as telegram or airgram number in order to identify specific documents.
Sample Subject-Numeric File Numbers:
- FN 9 US-FR: Finance ("FN"), United States-France ("US-FR"), Foreign Investment (9)
- POL 15-5 US: Political Affairs and Relations ("POL"), United States ("US"), Constitution (15-5)
- POL 27-14 VIET: Political Affairs and Relations ("POL"), Vietnam ("VIET"), Truce, Cease-Fire, Armistice (27-14)
- POL 27-3 VIET S: Political Affairs and Relations ("POL"), South Vietnam ("VIET S"), Use of Foreign Country Forces (27-3)
Changes in the Subject-Numeric File
During the 1950s, the Department began designating some bureaus and offices as official decentralized file custodians. This practice continued through the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, documentation relating to the programs of those offices is generally absent from the Subject-Numeric File, even though there are relevant file categories.
The filing manuals issued by the Department of State provide the most detailed explanation of the central filing system. Note that some of the changes reflected in the 1965 edition of the filing manual went into effect in January 1964:
Other Finding Aids:
Source cards. Created by the Department of State. The cards are arranged by the source or destination of the communication (country or city or other organization, thereunder to or from, thereunder by date or by the Department of State office originating a memorandum). The cards are divided into segments matching those of the records to which they relate:
- February-December 1963
The Source Cards are classified and are not available to researchers. NARA reference staff can perform very limited searches in the classified index for researchers.
Name cards. Created by the Department of State. The cards serve as a finding aid for communications to, from, or about private persons or organizations. Researchers cannot rely on the name cards to locate all documents relating to or mentioning a given individual. While the name index is an important tool and can assist with indentifying documents and files of interest, the coverage is limited. Name cards do not exist for every name mentioned in the records, or there may only be one card leading to a file with many documents. To locate all pertinent documentation, one must determine the file designation most likely to contain records of interest and then make a document-by-document search. While this can be laborious, it will result in the most comprehensive results. The cards are divided into segments matching those of the records to which they relate:
- February-December 1963
The Name cards are classified and are not available to researchers. NARA reference staff can perform very limited searches in the classified index for researchers.
Box Lists. NARA has created box lists for the records in each segment of the Subject-Numeric File - January-December 1963, 1964-66, 1967-69 and 1970-1973. Once you have determined the file designations for the records in which you are interested, the box lists for each segment of the Subject-Numeric File are used to identify the exact boxes with the records of interest.
Foreign Relations of the United States can assist with locating documentation of interest.
This guide provides a general overview of how to locate Subject-Numeric File (for all periods) documentation relating to specific countries.