Last Saturday, August 1, genealogist Shamele Jordon presented a lecture entitled, “Let Your Fingers Do The Searching Through Our Nation’s Capital: National Archives, Library of Congress & Daughters of American Revolution Library,” at a free genealogy conference in Newark, Delaware, sponsored by the local Family History Center. Much of the lecture focused on the National Archives and Records Administration website, Archives.gov, and the many resources available online.
One feature of Archives.gov is the Archival Research Catalog (ARC). This catalog provides access to all of the records in the custody of the National Archives, and is searchable by keyword.
The search results will open in a new page. The example shows the results for a search on the broad term, “slavery.” When you click on the title of one of the search results, you will be taken to a separate page providing details on that particular record or record group, presented in several tabs.
The first tab, “Details,” will tell you which agency of the government created the record, the dates covered by the record, where the original record is located, whether the record has been microfilmed and, if so, which microfilm series contains the record, and other information, including notes where necessary.
The second tab, labeled “Scope & Content,” provides a more detailed description of the record group. This will tell you a little about the background of the record group, and what sort of information might be found within it.
Another tab, “Hierarchy,” provides links to the ARC pages for the broader record group series under which the specific record falls. This is a great way to locate and learn more about other related records.
The most interesting and useful feature of ARC, however, is that many records have been digitized, and are available through this site. In your search results, some entries will be marked with the symbol on the left. This means that digital copies of that record are available, under the “Digital Copies” tab. These examples show the text of the act of Congress abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia in 1862. You can click on any of the thumbnail photos of documents to view the document much larger. You can also right click (in Windows) to save the image to your hard-drive.
Many record types are available through ARC. In her lecture, Ms. Jordon highlighted “contraband” camps. During the Civil War, when slaves in the South fled behind Union lines seeking their freedom, they were initially considered confiscated property, and were thus known as “contraband.” Below are a photo of a contraband camp in Richmond, Virginia, and a map of a contraband camp at Point Lookout, Maryland.
ARC also provides tips for family historians. You can search for specific names, and the ARC staff suggests that you try searching for variant spellings of the surname as well as just the surname without a given name. ARC also suggests keywords to search for information on various subject matters. For those interested in African-American history and genealogy, try the following search terms:
As more records become digitized through NARA’s partnerships with the Family History Library, Ancestry.com, and Footnote.com, it is almost certain that these records will eventually make their way into ARC. The number of digitized records held here at the present, however, already makes this an essential resource for genealogists and historians.