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13 May 2013

How to plan your research before going to the National Archives at Atlanta

Consider the following before leaving home or how to plan a genealogical research trip to the National Archives at Atlanta, 5780 Jonesboro Road, Morrow, Georgia 30260. The nine regional archives have federal resources unique to their region. The National Archives at Atlanta maintains federal historical records for the eight southeastern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
  • Genealogists researching at the National Archives at Atlanta will find valuable sources in three forms: online, microfilm and textual.
  • The free online databases including Fold3AncestryInstitutional and Heritage Quest are available at many libraries or at home by subscription.
  • Examples of microfilmed documents include Native American records, Freedman Bureau records, appointments of postmasters, and southern claims court records. The National Archives in Washington, D.C. has all microfilm rolls. The regional branches have copies of selected film. Contact the Atlanta regional facility for specific rolls, 770-968-2100.
  • A far greater number of manuscripts are available only as textual documents. These are the original paper form. The documents have been neither digitized nor microfilmed. As these documents are fragile, special precautions are necessary for their use. After filling out an application and presenting a photo ID, an archives researcher receives a free identification card. To the family historian holding the World War I draft card signed by an ancestor connects the generations. Textual records that may interest genealogists in Atlanta include the List of Aliens Admitted to Citizenship at Charleston, 1790-1860, World War I draft cards, slave sale documents and Tennessee Valley Authority documents.

Questions to consider:
  • How did your family interact with federal government, examples, census, federal land, military, federal court, federal prison, immigration, ship passenger or Native American? The Atlanta archives unique records include the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Atlanta Federal PenitentiaryWorld War I draft registration cards for all states.
  • Why all records are not open for research? Due to confidentially, each federal agency has specific guidelines for releasing documents. Due to the 72 year access restriction, the most recent Federal Census is 1940. Other records are available on individual basis with information redacted such as a Social Security number. When a researcher identifies textual records, the record may be reproduced on a flatbed scanner, non-flash digital camera, or paper copy.
  • Who is the agency that created the document and what was the purpose, examples, census or weather bureau? The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, contacted the weather bureau when planning test flights. Many of their letters are in Record Group 27, Records of the Weather Bureau.
  • How are the records arranged? The records are arranged by record groups. Every federal government entity is given a name and number, example Bureau of the Census RG 29. Not every record created by an agency will be transferred to the archives. Records are maintained at the archives in the same order as the sending agency. As the records are not arranged by topics, the NARA staff creates finding aids. The collection of original material may be available as digital, microfilm, microfiche, or text.
  • Has the document been digitized: Private agencies such as AncestryFamily Search, and Fold 3 may choose parts of a collection to digitize, index, and publish online.

Spend time researching online; read the FAQs; go prepared. Contact the National Archives at Atlanta with your research question, phone 770-968-2100 or fax 770-968-2547.

Some of my other articles on the National Archives at Atlanta:

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