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Search Tips for Family Historians

Please keep in mind that most catalog records are not indexed by individual names. The current focus of the catalog is on the breadth of NARA's holdings (at the series level) and not on individual items. However, Online Public Access (OPA) contains many descriptions of records of interest to genealogists and family historians.

Tips for Searching for an Individual's Name:

  • Search on the person's name in first name-last name order and last name-first name order at the same time by putting the names in quotes and using OR between them.
    • For example: "Shirley Chisholm" OR "Chisholm, Shirley"
  • Try the first name and last name without the quotes.
    • For example: Shirley Chisholm
  • Search on the person's full name, including the middle name and the middle initial.
    • For example: "Julia C. McWilliams" OR "Julia Carolyn McWilliams"
  • Search on the last name only if it is not a very common last name.
    • For example: Fahey
  • Search on variant spellings of the last name, including "Americanized" versions.
    • For example: Luchetti OR Lucetti
    • For example: McCarthur OR McArthur OR MacArthur
    • Search tip: OPA ignores diacritic marks like accents and umlauts. You can search on "Miro, Joan" for Joan Miró.
  • Search on variant spellings of the first name, including "Americanized" versions.
    • For example: "Joseph Maggio" OR "Guiseppe Maggio"
  • If the person is famous, you might want to make sure you are spelling the person's name correctly.
    • For example: Mathew Brady (with only one T in Mathew)
    • Search tip: Use a search engine or online encyclopedia to verify the spelling.

Browse the digital copies of documents with people's names.

Digital copies of selected documents that contain individuals' names are available in OPA. For many of those scanned documents, the names are not keyword searchable in OPA. Instead, you need to browse the digital copy for the desired name. If there is a PDF file of the document available, you can download the PDF and type the person's name into the "Find" box.

The following are some examples of documents with lists of names that are not keyword searchable by name in OPA:

Still can't find what you're looking for?

It's possible that the National Archives does not have the types of records that you need. Check out these pages for more information about the types of records held by the National Archives:

Visit the National Archives' digitization partner websites.

Digitization partnerships present an opportunity for increased access to historical government information. The National Archives is working with select partners to make available National Archives holdings. See more about our digitization partnerships and a list of online services available for free in our Research Rooms.

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