US National Archives

"NARA" redirects here. For the immigration agency of Pakistan, see National Alien Registration Authority.
National Archives and Records Administration
National Archives logo
Agency overview


(Independent Agency April 1, 1985)[1]
Preceding Agency National Archives and Records Service (GSA)
Jurisdiction Federal government of the United States
Headquarters 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.
Employees 2,462 (2009)[2]
Agency executives David Ferriero, Archivist[3]
Debra Steidel Wall, Deputy Archivist[4]

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the United States government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records and with increasing public access to those documents, which comprise the National Archives.[5] NARA is officially responsible for maintaining and publishing the legally authentic and authoritative copies of acts of Congress, presidential proclamations and executive orders, and federal regulations.

The chief administrator of NARA is the Archivist of the United States, who not only maintains the official documentation of the passage of amendments to the U.S. Constitution by state legislatures, but has the authority to declare when the constitutional threshold for passage has been reached, and therefore when an act has become an amendment. The NARA also transmits votes of the Electoral College to Congress.


Originally, each branch and agency of the U.S. government was responsible for maintaining its own documents, which often resulted in the loss and destruction of records. Congress established the National Archives Establishment in 1934 to centralize federal record keeping, with the Archivist of the United States as its chief administrator. The National Archives was incorporated into the General Services Administration in 1949, but in 1985 it became an independent agency as NARA (National Archives and Records Administration).

Most of the documents in the care of NARA are in the public domain, as works of the federal government are excluded from copyright protection. However, some documents that have come into the care of NARA from other sources may still be protected by copyright or donor agreements.[6] Executive Order 13526 directs originating agencies to declassify documents if possible before sending them to the National Archives for long-term storage,[7] but the NARA also stores some classified documents until they can be declassified. Its Information Security Oversight Office monitors and sets policy for the U.S. government's security classification system.

NARA's holdings are classified into "record groups" reflecting the governmental department or agency from which they originated. The records include paper records, microfilmed records, still pictures, motion pictures, and electronic media.

Many of NARA's most requested records are frequently used for research in genealogy. This includes census records from 1790 to 1930, as well as ships passenger lists and naturalization records.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the agency's grant-making arm, awards funds to state and local governments, public and private archives, colleges and universities, and other nonprofit organizations to preserve and publish historical records. Since 1964, the NHPRC has awarded some 4,500 grants.

2006 controversy over reclassification

In March 2006, it was revealed by the Archivist of the United States in a public hearing that a memorandum of understanding between NARA and various government agencies existed to "reclassify", i.e., withdraw from public access, certain documents in the name of national security, and to do so in a manner such that researchers would not be likely to discover the process.[8] An audit indicated that more than one third withdrawn since 1999 did not contain sensitive information.[9] The program was originally scheduled to end in 2007.

National Declassification Center

In 2010, Executive Order 13526 created the National Declassification Center[10] to coordinate declassification practices across agencies, provide secure document services to other agencies, and review records in NARA custody for declassification.

2011 stolen records

In 2011, a retired employee pled guilty to stealing original sound recordings from the archives.[11][12][13] Archival Recovery Teams investigate stolen records.[14]

Facilities and exhibition

National Archives Building

The National Archives Building, known informally as Archives I, located north of the National Mall on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., opened as its original headquarters in 1935. It holds the original copies of the three main formative documents of the United States and its government: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It also hosts a copy of the 1297 Magna Carta confirmed by Edward I.[15] These are displayed to the public in the main chamber of the National Archives, which is called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. The National Archives Building also exhibits other important American historical documents such as the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, the Emancipation Proclamation, and collections of photography and other historically and culturally significant American artifacts.

Once inside the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, there are no lines to see the individual documents and visitors are allowed to walk from document to document as they wish. For over 30 years the National Archives have forbidden flash photography but the advent of cameras with automatic flashes have made the rules increasingly difficult to enforce. As a result, all filming, photographing, and videotaping by the public in the exhibition areas has been prohibited since February 25, 2010.[16]

National Archives at College Park

Because of space constraints, NARA opened a second facility, known informally as Archives II, in 1994 near the University of Maryland, College Park campus (8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD, 20740-6001). Largely because of this proximity, NARA and the University of Maryland engage in cooperative initiatives.[17] The College Park campus includes an archaeological site that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.[18]

Affiliated facilities

The National Archives Building in downtown Washington holds record collections such as all existing federal census records, ships' passenger lists, military unit records from the American Revolution to the Philippine-American War, records of the Confederate government, the Freedmen's Bureau records, and pension and land records.

There are also ten Affiliated Archives[19] locations across the U.S. which hold, by formal, written agreement with NARA,[20] accessioned records.

Regional facilities

There are facilities across the country with research rooms, archival holdings, and microfilms of documents of federal agencies and courts pertinent to each region.

Three offices in the St. Louis, Missouri area comprise the National Personnel Records Center.[33]

In addition, Federal Records Centers exist in each region that house materials owned by Federal agencies. Federal Records Centers are not open for public research. For example, the FRC in Lenexa, Kansas holds items from the treatment of John F. Kennedy after his fatal shooting in 1963.

Presidential libraries

NARA also maintains the Presidential Library system, a nationwide network of libraries for preserving and making available the documents of U.S. presidents since Herbert Hoover. The Presidential Libraries include:

Libraries and museums have been established for other presidents, but they are not part of the NARA presidential library system, and are operated by private foundations, historical societies, or state governments, including the Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge libraries. For example, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is owned and operated by the state of Illinois.

Public-private partnerships

In an effort to make its holdings more widely available and more easily accessible, the National Archives began entering into public-private partnerships in 2006. A joint venture with Google will digitize and offer NARA video online. When announcing the agreement, Archivist Allen Weinstein said that this pilot program is important step for the National Archives to achieve its goal of becoming an archive without walls. Our new strategic plan emphasizes the importance of providing access to records anytime, anywhere. This is one of many initiatives that we are launching to make our goal a reality. For the first time, the public will be able to view this collection of rare and unusual films on the Internet."

On 10 January 2007, the National Archives and Footnote[38] launched a pilot project to digitize historic documents from the National Archives holdings. Allen Weinstein explained that this partnership would "allow much greater access to approximately 4.5 million pages of important documents that are currently available only in their original format or on microfilm" and "would also enhance NARA's efforts to preserve its original records."[39]

In July 2007, the National Archives announced it would make its collection of Universal Newsreels from 1929 to 1967 available for purchase through CreateSpace, an subsidiary. During the announcement, Weinstein noted that the agreement would "...reap major benefits for the public-at-large and for the National Archives." Adding, "While the public can come to our College Park, MD research room to view films and even copy them at no charge, this new program will make our holdings much more accessible to millions of people who cannot travel to the Washington, DC area." The agreement also calls for CreateSpace partnership to provide the National Archives with digital reference and preservation copies of the films as part of NARA's preservation program.[40]

Archival Research Catalog

Archival descriptions of the permanent holdings of the federal government in the custody of NARA are stored in Archival Research Catalog[41] (ARC). The archival descriptions include information on traditional paper holdings, electronic records, and artifacts.[42] As of December 2012, the catalog consisted of about 10 billion logical data records describing 527 thousands artifacts and encompassing 81% of NARA's records.[43] There are also 922 thousand digital copies of already digitized materials.[43]

Social Media and Web 2.0

The National Archives currently utilizes social media and Web 2.0 technologies in attempt to better communicate with the public.[44]

On June 18, 2009, the National Archives announced the launching of a YouTube channel "to showcase popular archived films, inform the public about upcoming events around the country, and bring National Archives exhibits to the people."[45] Also in 2009, the National Archives launched a Flickr photostream to share portions of its photographic holdings with the general public.[46] A new teaching with documents website premiered in 2010 and was developed by the education team. The website[47] features 3,000 documents, images, and recordings from the holdings of the Archives. The site also features lesson plans and tools for creating new classroom activities and lessons.

In 2011 the National Archives initiated a Wikiproject on the English World Heritage Encyclopedia to expand collaboration in making its holdings widely available through . See WP:GLAM/NARA.

Archivist of the United States

Further information: Archivist of the United States

The Archivist of the United States is the chief official overseeing the operation of the National Archives and Records Administration. The first Archivist, R.D.W. Connor, began serving in 1934, when the National Archives was established by Congress. As a result of a first Hoover Commission recommendation, in 1949 the National Archives was placed within the newly formed General Services Administration (GSA). The Archivist served as a subordinate official to the GSA Administrator until the National Archives and Records Administration became an independent agency on April 1, 1985.

Popular culture

The archives feature in the first National Treasure film, in which treasure hunters attempt to steal the Declaration of Independence. A post-apocalyptic version of the archives is featured in Fallout 3, visited in a mission where the player must retrieve the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.

See also



  • Beschloss, Michael. (2006). ISBN 978-0-19-530959-1

External links

  • National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Official Site
  • Archival Research Catalog of the National Archives and Records Administration
  • Outdoor sculpture at the National Archives building
  • NARA on
  • National Archives and Records Administration at FamilySearch Research Wiki for genealogists
  • National Archives and Records Administration's Our Archives wiki, which provides information both about NARA and also about the records held at NARA
  • , August 1935 statue Gladiator commissioned for the main national archive building in Washington DC in 1935
  • "Ten Ton Door Made of Bronze is Thirty Five Feet High" Popular Mechanics, October 1934, bottom of pg. 519
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.