Wait There’s More! Researching at “Archives II”

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

The National Archives facility on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. is one of my favorite places in which to do research. Did you know, however, that there is a second facility, the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, commonly known as “Archives II?” This article shares information about this facility and its collections so that you can access its resources as appropriate for your research.

As with any research trip, plan your visit to Archives II in advance.

  1. Understand the types of records that are housed at Archives II and make sure that research in this facility is appropriate to your specific research goal (which I know you have already developed!).

Archives II houses several collections and types of formats:

  • Textual records (located on the second floor) are predominantly those created after 1900, either civilian records (those created by civilian agencies that are part of the Executive Branch of the federal government) or modern military records. It is within textual records that the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection is located. An index to this collection can be searched online, but special access provisions apply to the public’s use of the actual records. I did, however, do my usual “Barkley” search and found several references whose descriptions told me absolutely nothing that I could understand! Inexplicably, I did find reference to two letters written by Vice-President Alben Barkley (Truman administration) to J. Edgar Hoover concerning the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. I have no idea what they might have to do with the assassination, but it was interesting to note their existence.
  • Cartographic records (located on the third floor), including 15 million maps, charts, aerial photographs, architectural drawings, patents, and ships plans. Some of the more interesting collections are the exploration and scientific surveys, which include maps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; a large number of township plats and field notes for Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Wisconsin as well as parts of a few additional states; the central map file from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, with over 16,000 maps detailing the period 1800-1939; and nautical maps of U.S.  coastlines from the 1840s to the present. In addition, there are maps of foreign countries, particularly as they apply to treaties, and a large collection of military campaign maps from the Office of the Chief of Engineers, the Adjutant General, the Quartermaster General, the Army Map Service and other similar agencies. Architectural and engineering drawings provide illustrations of 28,000 public buildings, including post offices, courthouses and customhouses, beginning in the mid-1800s. Aerial photographs document World War II, including 1.2 million prints taken by the German military.
  • Electronic records (located on the second floor) number more than 3.5 billion records transferred from all three government branches.
  • Motion Picture Films and Sound and Video Recordings (located on the fourth floor) number more than 207,000 sound and video recordings and 93,000 motion picture films. Some access to this collection is available through the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), described in more detail below; some access is still available through traditional card catalogs maintained by the unit. A variety of interesting materials include the Supreme Court Oral Argument Collection, with 5,000 sound recordings dating from October 1955 to April 1978; Universal newsreels from 1929 to 1967; National Public Radio news and public affairs broadcasts from 1971 to 1978; footage of Marine Corps units from World War I to 1960; and 5,000 recordings of CBS-KIRO radio broadcasts from 1931 to 1977, including news, public affairs programs, speeches, interviews, wartime dramas and daily World War II news programs.
  • Photographs and Graphic Works (located on the fifth floor), number nearly eight million still pictures and posters. You can view many of these images online. One collection includes photographs of the American West between 1861 and 1912. If your ancestor “did time,” you might want to look at a picture of a wooden jail in Wyoming Territory in 1893. The photograph collection includes the 22nd Infantry’s German Singing Society at Fort Keogh (Montana) in May 1894 illustrating one of the more enjoyable aspects a soldier’s daily life during this period. Other collections include digital access to a wonderful collection of Ansel Adams photographs from the National Park Service.
  • Microforms
  1. Learn how to get to the College Park facility, and be aware of its hours and any specific guidelines that you must meet to use the facility. Being prepared will ensure the effectiveness of your visit.
  • Archives II is located at 8601 Adelphia Road near the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.
  • If you plan to drive, limited visitor parking is available in a garage which opens at 8:00 a.m. You will need to provide a photo ID to the security officer prior to entering the garage. Because the available visitor parking places fill quickly, staff recommend that you use public transportation (Metrobus or Metrorail). In addition, a free staff shuttle bus runs between College Park and the National Archives main facility in Washington, D.C. It departs either facility on the hour from 8:00 to 5:00 and is available to researchers on a space-available basis. On Saturdays there is a free researcher shuttle bus to and from the Prince George’s Plaza Metrorail Green Line station. More detailed information is available on the National Archives website.
  • The facility is open Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday from 9:00 to 5:00, and Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:00 to 9:00.
  • Records are “pulled” at 10:00, 11:00, 1:30 and 2:30, Monday through Friday (but none on Saturday). On the days that the facility is open until 9:00 p.m., an additional – and final pull – is scheduled at 3:30.
  • If you are a new researcher, expect a brief orientation and registration process. You will need to obtain a valid NARA researcher card. If you have a card already, be sure to bring it with you in order to be admitted to any of the research rooms. Children under fourteen years of age are not admitted.
  • Plan your clothing and any hand-carried items carefully. In the research rooms, sweaters and sweatshirts (with or without hoods) are permitted, but none with full-length zippers (there must be a reason, but it is not explained on the website). Also not allowed are coats, jackets and other outerwear, nor are hats, caps or scarves (although religious headwear is allowed). Small coin purses or pocket-sized wallets are allowed, although larger purses, briefcases, suitcases, handbacks, backpacks, bags, etc,. and clear plastic bags larger than 10×10 are not.
  • Organizing your research materials in advance is important to avoid delay when entering a research room as notes, research materials, and related equipment are regulated. Envelopes, notebooks, pads, binders, folder, pens, markers, and Post-it™ notes are not allowed. You may bring approved research notes on loose paper, NARA issued paper and note cards, handouts and NARA publications, one approved research-related book (one at a time), pencils and mechanical pencils. You may not bring into the research room flash bulbs, personal copiers, or more than one CD at a time. You may bring video and audio recording equipment, cameras, camcorders and tripods, scanners (flatbed only, no autofeed or handheld models), and personal computers. Lockers are provided for all materials or items of apparel not allowed in the research rooms.
  1. Do as much work as possible at home beforehand. You do not want to “waste” time once you have arrived, so search for and identify specific materials for your research prior to leaving home.

You can identify specific materials by searching in the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), the online catalog for National Archives holdings in the Washington, D.C. area as well as the regional branches and presidential libraries. An ARC search identifies materials across all formats and collections and provides the information necessary for requesting them for research. Some materials may exist in digital format, accessible from home. I was able to locate a record for the Virginia Beach, Virginia, Lifesaving Station in 1890. The description of the item indicated that it was a street map with lot numbers. I also found digital images of documents in the case of Dorothy E. Davis vs the County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia, during the time of “massive resistance” to the integration of schools in Virginia in the early 1950s. In another search, I located an image of a flyer for a boycott of Chinese and Japanese restaurants called by the Silver Bow Labor and Trades Assembly and Butte Miners’ Union in Montana during August 1898. This type of browsing invites me to search for hours on end, as I can always find numerous interesting items that might add background, as well as specific information, to my research. Be sure to check out the ARC Galleries page where you can search in pre-selected subject categories.

I hope that once you have identified your research goal; clarified which collections may further your work toward that goal; know how to travel to the National Archives at College Park; and know how to prepare yourself and your research materials to meet the rules and regulations for its several research rooms, you will plan a research trip to Maryland. If not, you will find much enjoyment in browsing its online collections.

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