Visit to NARA

After a short nap, following a very busy day, I thought I would share some of my first Visit to NARA, National Archives and Records Administration. Having and experienced NARA visitor as guide was awesome.

Lessons Learned:

  • Go with another experienced researcher
  • Good Preparation
  • Expect some “down time”
  • Don’t get overwhelmed

Prior to our trip to Washington, D.C., I spent some time on the NARA website. – It was helpful to read as much about the visit as possible, like the link for Genealogist or Planning your visit, signing up for a Researcher Card, orientation were helpful.

There are many other helpful links on those pages in preparation for the visit.

The next thing, for me at least, was to have what exactly I was looking for. (a short list)

Determine how you are going to record what you are going to be looking at and what you want to capture from the material that you will find. If you look at the “allowed” list of things you can take “into Room 203” is long on Electronic / Digital devices.

Check out what records or record groups that you want to look at. Remembering that you can’t just walk up to a shelf a pick something out. For me, I wanted ONE thing, but had 4 other items to look at. My goal was to pull my Great-Grandfather’s pension file. Thanks to Dear MYRTLE, I had the one number I needed for that record. Not seeing much in the past, about any pension files from other family genealogist, my expectations for material was low. So, I did have a short list of Land Records to look at, from the Bureau of Land Management. My Great-Grandfather’s children showed up on 4 BLM records, so I wanted to see what was included in them. I hadn’t looked at any of those records.

I did spend a number of hours, in preparation for the trip, I had information on what I wanted to put, but kept the list small. That was my way of trying not to be overwhelmed and for the preparation for the trip.

The next piece what a briefing from an experienced NARA Researcher, my cousin, Dear MYTLE.

What was very helpful, was what really happens from the time you walk in the door until you see the first item that you went to NARA to see. What to expect or the details behind the links that I mentioned earlier. For example, what you go through when walking in the front door (or is that the back door — Oh yeah, the researcher door). Think airport security, but with very nice, helpful, no pat down, folks.

The next piece that Myrt told us about was the Researcher Card (see link above) and it’s orientation. I read it online before I left home and Patti read it on the way to DC. It wasn’t the same that you when through to get your Researcher Card, but the review made the required orientation go a little quicker.

Here is where the fine points of the visit came in handy. We almost had the timing down, but I missed it by about 5 minutes.

While you are in the area to get the Researcher Card, for first timers, you can have all of your paper work with you, your notes, etc, BUT there is a “pull time” schedule to be aware of. We were, we arrived but didn’t quite make the first Pull Time. Myrt did, but I just missed it. The Orientation and waiting for the Photo Researcher Card to be processed messed me up. But, in reality that was good news.

Card in hand, the filling out of a Pull Request form had to be filled out. I had that data in hand, not to much time to fill out, but just missed it. Patti followed in a few minutes, and not the “wait” begins. Since we had time, I used it to see if I could get these 4 Land Records. We had to go to a different part of the area where we were. Had some help filling out the right form for those records. There was always someone around to help. Very nice folk.

Forms filled out and turned in, we put our “stuff” (everything) into a locker. Camera’s in hand, we were ready for Room 203. But, since we had about 45 minutes before anything would be ready for us, we visited the Library in the same area. I am not sure that “library” was the right term for that area, but there were books. I wondered through to see what was there. The best example was a book that I found, that was probably the source for the information I found on Ancestry, on the Civil War Unit that my Great-Grandfather was in. Some books for Maryland and Pennsylvania, that I had seen referred to at some point in time, some City Directories, to name a few. Of interest to me, was that we were the only 3 people in the room. Guess that is not where the “good stuff” is.

The first “Pull” was about ready to be in Room 203, so we headed in that direction. I had a chance to meet, in person, someone from the Archives, that I had “met” in one of the 1940 Census Webinars that we did that first week. What an honor to meet Rebecca.

ROOM 203 – wow. It was about what I expected. We found a table for the 3 of us to get comfortable and ready to work. “Hurry up and wait” was the key word for Patti and I, but that was OK. Myrt picked up her “first” pull package. I watched what she did, for when my turn came. She reviewed (quickly) what she was looking at, then signed up for a ‘camera position’, where she could take pictures that is well lite and a way to mount the camera. Really cool.

To help speed things along, I helped turn the pages, while she operated the camera.

The second pull arrived …. now it’s time to get to work. I picked up my Samuel pension file. It was thicker then what I had expected. Patti got hers, opened it, and right on top was a Marriage Certificate. Dear MYRTLE turned ‘green’.

As my mentor did, I quickly looked through what was in the package and since the camera position was open, I started to take pictures. Probably took 100 photos. We get the details from those photos when I get home and have the time to really digest what I had in front of me.

Glancing at the pages that I helped Myrt with, and my own, and later when I took the pictures for Patti, the FAN concept came to mind. Many of the documents we looked at had Family, Acquaintances, and Neighbors names listed. More to follow up on later.

We took a lunch break, on a lower level of the building. Then back to work. My Land Records had arrived before lunch, and I went through one of them, and finished them after lunch. One of the 4 records was not the record that I wanted, but that was OK.

Observation: why were these folks, official looking, non-visitor badges walking around? Besides being very friendly, and helpful, were making sure that “we” were doing what we were to be doing. Of course, this was covered in the orientation. What wasn’t in the orientation was how nice they were, helpful, would answer any question. Added to the nice experience.

Another observation, was the number of younger folk in the room working on the records that are available at NARA. I’ll leave that as a mystery, but perhaps they were college folk doing research. Certainly there were other genealogist in the room, but I was curious as to who these other folk were.

I guess we were exhausted by now, camera’s full of new “stuff”, it was time to go home. The process was reversed, locker, then the door. Unlike an airport, we existed through security. Again, very nice folks, making the entire experience very pleasant.

All in all, a great day.

I am repeating:

Lessons Learned:

  • Go with another experiened researcher
  • Good Preparation
  • Expect some “down time”
  • Don’t get overwhelmed

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