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US National Archives, hosted on Archives.gov, is a national collection of documents which spans US (and some world) history. It offers free online access to a wide range of documents, with special collections on veterans service records and several key historic eras and events. Whilst a lot of its documents and information aren’t available online, and access to some documents may cost money, the majority are available for free. This makes it a great resource for all researchers interested in their family history, and US history more generally.
You can learn how to find out about your family’s ancestry on Archives.gov. The site offers a guide on how to start your research, plus various other tips on continuing when you hit dead ends. A special guide to research using military records is also available.
The site provides simple browsing and advanced search options to help you move between census records, immigration records, land records and more. You can also find tools for genealogists, including a free database, a list of relevant sites to use, catalog guides specifically designed for genealogical research, and a range of charts and forms.
The charts can be downloaded as PDFs, which can then be printed and completed. Federal census, immigration and military forms are also available as PDF files, among other forms. These provide a canvas for you to store accurate research. Other online research tools include a range of common records, catalogs and Soundex tools.
An online family tree builder is lacking, but this is really a space to perform research and keep notes, rather than to actually build a family tree. You can also find out much more about specific areas and eras of history on this site than you can on many others. Above all else, National Archives is a US history education website, so its breadth is wide.
If you’re new to researching your genealogy, you won’t be left in the dark here. The site offers plenty of advice and guides, including a Powerpoint tutorial on how to perform genealogical research. There aren’t many community features, such as forums, though, so asking for help from the general public is a bit more difficult. That said, you can upload your research or leave comments and updates on other people’s documents, which is a good way to build a working research-based relationship with staff and other users.
If you happen to be near one of the archives (which are located in Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston and several other locations in the US) then you can arrange a visit. This will allow you to explore a more complete selection of items from the archive. If you’re prepared enough in advance then you could also request items to be sent to an archive near you, or that copies are transferred for you to look at or take home.
You can order copies of some documents online, which is a great way to gain access without having to trek out to the archive. This is particularly useful if you find something in the catalog which isn’t available online. This service may incur charges.
Teachers and students can take advantage of a range of resources available on the website or by visiting an archive. These include lesson ideas, professional development workshops, plus special videos and other resources to get students interested. This is certainly worth a look if you’re teaching US history or wish to learn some new research skills.
We were really impressed by National Archives (hosted on Archives.gov). Whilst its records are primarily based on US history, and they don’t have every tool you might be looking for, the information they do provide online is excellent. Their additional support is practical, helping you to really improve your skills and capabilities as a genealogical researcher. Check it out!
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