Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Family History Mission: Research in the National Archives

National Archives, Washington, D.C.
No. 62

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission James Tanner" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them or click back through all the posts.

As Senior Missionaries for FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are encouraged to take advantage of cultural and educational activities on our preparation days. The Missionary Handbook specifically says:
CULTURAL AND RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES Cultural and recreational activities should help you work more productively during the rest of the week. You may, for example, visit such places as historical sites, cultural centers, museums, art galleries, zoos, and special exhibits. Missionary Handbook, page 21. 
 It took us a while to get used to the traffic in and around Washington, D.C. and get oriented. We purchased Senior SmarTrip cards for the Metro and learned how to get from Annapolis to downtown Washington, D.C. without too much hysteria. We do get a substantial senior discount and the cost of the trip saves parking in the downtown area. Some of the Saturdays, which are our only day off other than when the Maryland State Archives are closed, we take the Metro downtown. Here is an example of a visit to the National Archives.

First, we drive for about 20 to 30 minutes to the New Carrollton Metro Station.

This is the last stop of the Orange line to DC. We park in a high rise parking lot.

There is a charge for parking but we can use our Senior Smartrip Cards to pay for parking also. Parking is only $2 a day on Saturdays. We use our cards to get through the Metro turnstiles and wait just a few minutes for a train to leave for downtown. We will be transferring from the Orange line to either the Yellow or Green line for one additional stop. Here is what the Metro looks like.

We transfer at the L'Enfant Metro stop.

We finally make it to the stop nearest the National Archives; in fact, it is right across the street.

This particular escalator is only partially in operation. It is making a terrible grinding noise. Here is another view of the Metro stations.

We arrive on Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Archives. The entrance for research is on this side of the building on Pennsylvania Avenue. The public entrance is on the opposite side.

Here is a better shot of the entrance.

Unfortunately, the National Archives does not allow any photography at all inside the building unless you are taking photos of your research. Almost every govenment building in Washington, D.C. has a security check for entrance. Most of these involve either a search of any carried items or an xray of bags and purses. We finally, decided to take everything out of our pockets and carry our wallets and keys etc. in a fanny pack so we could easily go throuh the search process.

Once inside thee Research section, I was surprised at how limited and small it was. I expected something like the Library of Congress Main Reading Room. It looked more like a small Family History Center.

After viewing an orientation video, we applied for Researchers Cards. The procedures are online on National Archives website. The machine that printed the permanent cards was not working, so we got "temporary" paper cards. We walked around and looked at the immediately available materials and talked to the person at the reference desk. She told us "we do all our research on FamilySearch and Ancestry." Both the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Brigham Young University Family History Library in Provo, Utah have thousands of times more resources than a casual visit to the National Archives.

After some more discussion, we realized that when they say "research" at the National Archives, they mean come and look for records you have already identified from the National Archives Catalog online. You can research by topic  on this page.

If you need help, they have assistance from the employees and volunteers who will help you with searching the online catalog to identify records you might want to look at. The contrast was that at the Library of Congress, there is a substantial research section of books to use in the Library. So, for example, at the National Archives, if I wanted to find an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War, I would have to know where to look for the documents and identify the documents to search before I actually did any searching in the National Archives. What is missing is the whole research process I use in other libraries where I get to walk the shelves and look for possible sources. You request documents and then at certain hours during the day, they pull the documents and bring them to you in another area of the Archives where you wait for your documents.

They provided us with a sheet listing the documents that were there in Washington, D.C. and if your documents happened to be in one of the other branches that would mean you would need to travel to visit the other branch repository. The key to whole process turns out to be the National Archives Catalog.

This whole process emphasized to me the importance of digitizing and indexing the records. If I really wanted a Revolutionary War record, I would search online and probably find the record on one of the major websites. By the way, there are no FamilySearch Missionary/Volunteers currently digtizing documents at the National Archives due to the governments budgetary constraints.

Here is the orientation video they showed us as part of the registration process:

Research at the National Archives.

We did not get as far as the room depicted in the video. We would need to either put in a request for some specific documents or talk to a research assistant. However, I do see an advantage in gaining access to their microfilmed records that are "self-service."

We spent the rest of this day at the National Air and Space Museum and had a good time looking at the exhibits. Our return to Annapolis is the reverse of our trip downtown. 

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