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Visiting the National Archives


When I was a kid, watching the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as the Ark is taken to an enormous warehouse and stored among piles of boxes of who knows what, I wanted to shout (with every other kid in the theater), “No, that’s really important!” Then I remember thinking, “If the ark is in that box, what’s in all the others?”

Last week when I visited the National Archives in Washington DC and Archives II in College Park, Maryland, that Raiders of the Lost Ark feeling came back.

As we walked through the stacks, our guides would stop, take down a box and pull out a document–a telegraph message from Abraham Lincoln–then put that back on the shelf and move on to another box, another document–George A. Custer’s acceptance letter from West Point–put that back, then go to another part of the building and take down the next box, the next document.


Of course I mention the big-name examples, but we also looked at service records from average soldiers, correspondence from various agencies, photographs, court records–you name it. Pretty soon I came to feel like I was in that warehouse from the Indiana Jones movie and each document held a story that someone really needed to get out of that box.

The other great thing about the visit was the people who work at the National Archives. It was like being back in that theater with all those other kids who wanted to shout, “Don’t just put that in there!” They know the collections so well and as far as I could tell, they genuinely love what they do. I was impressed at the lengths they go to maintain these records and help people find what they are looking for.

Anyway, it was a great trip. I’m excited about our partnership with the National Archives and I can’t wait to get some of those documents out of their boxes and onto the internet where their stories can be told.


  1. Wrote to NARA as all genealogy sites recommend, including FootNote for info on my GGF’s combined Military/Pension Packet. What a disappointment! They’ve sent me some other Civil War Soldiers’ information who has the same name as my GGF; this soldier had a completely different life in a different state and all details pointed to someone other than my GGF. When I wrote to complain, NARA stated they had 60 other soldiers with the same name, but only ONE match, which is the one they sent me, and they suggested I return the packet for a refund. Now, I’m clueless as to how to proceed. I have tried ALL genealogy sites prior to writing to NARA to no avail. Either they made a mistake or my GGF disappeared from the face of the earth. Any suggestions?

  2. i went to the archives with my school and it was exteremly interseting an factual.