Graduate Studies in Archival Methods

The National Archives & Records Administration, Southeast Region

Term Paper for ARST 5000: Principles and Practices of Archives


Term Paper for ARST 5000 Principles and Practices in Archives

Study a specific archives. Describe how it addresses the functions covered in this course. Introduce the archives by describing its type (collecting, business, governmental, other); its institutional context (its parent organization, how it relates to other departments in the organization, any departments it oversees); its audience (users, patrons); the type of records it holds (by content, type, age, other dimensions as appropriate). Your paper should be based on interviews and conversations with the archivist(s), a review appropriate policy documents, and your own observations. You may study an archives of your choice. However, the instructor must approve the repository you select. You may not write a report about an archives at which you work or have worked as an employee. Further, you must be able to visit the archives in person so that you can make your own first-hand observation. The staff should be willing to assist you by answering questions and explaining what they do. (You should give them a copy of the assignment so that they understand how the information you obtain will be used. If you agree to keep information confidential, you must respect their request; even an anonymized reference may not be appropriate.)

By Paul Ament-Gjenvick

Professor Richard Pierce-Moses
ARST 5000 Principles and Practices in Archives
Master of Archival Studies Program
Clayton State University


Submitted: Thursday, 1 December 2011

The National Archives & Records Administration, Southeast Region

National Archives Southeast Region Atlanta


The National Archives & Record Administration is arguably the best known Archives in the World.  Their holdings include the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights.  Some of their holdings date back to 1775 and seem to encompass all of our nation’s most recognizable or historically important documents, maps, drawings, photographs, films and video tapes.

Established in 1934 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, NARA has become the Archives of record for such records as slave ship manifests, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Japanese surrender documents signed onboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri marking the end of World War II.

NARA keeps only those federal records that are judged to have continuing value—about 2 to 5 percent of those generated in any given year. There are approximately 9 billion pages of textual records; 7.2 million maps, charts, and architectural drawings; more than 20 million still photographs; billions of machine-readable data sets; and more than 365,000 reels of film and 110,000 videotapes. All of these materials are preserved because they are important to the workings of government, have long-term research worth, or provide information of value to citizens.

Introduction to Regional Archives

The majority of NARA holdings are held in locations in Washington DC and College Park, MD.  The presidential Library System, established in 1939, is also managed by NARA.

Beginning in 1969, NARA implemented and continues to manage a system of regional archives across the United States.

NARA, Southeast Regional Facility offers a gateway into researching your family history through the records of the Federal government.  Records from many record groups contain stories about individuals and families, often revealing evidence of their character, their daily life and perhaps even some secrets long forgotten. 

This report will focus more on the records that provide genealogical information that are available at this branch location in addition to resources on microfilm and online databases useful for genealogist in researching their family history and heritage.

Accessioned Records National Office to Regional Offices

Every year, NARA accessions approximately 50,000 cubic feet of records in the two main facilities near Washington, DC and about 36,000 cubic feet of records are accessioned into the regional archives. The regional archives are:

  • The Pacific Region (San Francisco – San Bruno)
  • The Pacific Region (Riverside, CA)
  • The Rocky Mountain Region (Denver, Colorado)
  • The Southeast Region, Atlanta
  • The Great Lakes Region (Chicago & Dayton)
  • The Northeast Region, Pittsfield, MA
  • The Northeast Region (Boston)
  • The Northeast Region (New York City)
  • The Central Plains Region (Kansas City)
  • The National Personnel & Military Records Center, (St. Louis, MO)
  • Lee's Summit, Missouri
  • The Mid-Atlantic Region Northeast (Philadelphia)
  • The Southwest Region (Fort Worth, Texas)
  • The Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle)
  • Pacific Alaska Region (Anchorage)

As it pertains to the Southeast Regional Facility of NARA, Record Group 21, Records of District Courts of the United States (AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN) is the largest in terms of Total Cubic Feet and Number of Accessions over the last decade (1 July 2001 – 31 July 2011)

The Top Six Record Groups Based on the total number of accessions over the last decade to the Southeast branch of NARA:

  • Records of the District Courts of the United States
  • Records of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
  • Records of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • Records of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  • Records of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • And Records of the Public Buildings Service

The Top Six Record Groups Based on the total cubic feet of accessions over the last decade to the Southeast branch of NARA

  • Records of the District Courts of the United States
  • Records of the Selective Service System, 1940 forward
  • Records of the Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments
  • Records of NASA
  • And Records of the United States Bankruptcy Courts (not already included in Record Group 21).

NARA’s Clientele and Patrons

The people who utilize and depend on the National Archives and Records Administration for access to the documents and other records that document the rights of citizens and the work of Government (primarily of executive branch agency records and Presidential records) are quite a diverse group.  They include genealogists, historians, filmmakers, patent holders and other researchers.  Over three-quarters of NARA’s visitors are researching their family history or performing other genealogical research.

Genealogical Records Available at NARA SE Regional Office

Opened in April 2005, the new state-of-the-art archival facility in Morrow, Georgia is known as the National Archives Southeast Region.  It holds in trust a huge number of original records documenting the settlement and development of the southeastern United States.  It maintains over 115,000 cubic feet of historical records of Federal agencies in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. 

The archival holdings, dating from 1716, provide a trail of history on significant social, cultural economic, political, and technological trends in American History. The National Archives at Atlanta is a center for the study of the history of the South, a diverse region rich with family tradition.  The Southeast Region is adding an incredible 200,000 documents per year and has a capacity to hold 400,000 cubic feet of records in four storage bays and one cold storage area.

Let’s review some of the genealogical related records available at the Southeast Regional Archives.

Atlanta Federal Penitentiary

The Atlanta Federal Penitentiary was established as part of the Three Prisons Act of 1891. Designed and constructed for a capacity for 3,000 inmates, the first prisoners began to arrive in 1902. Many researchers utilize the many Inmate case files from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.  These case files date from 1902 to the early 1920s, and allow researchers to learn about each inmate from the perspective of the prison guards and prison administrators.  The case files contain mini-biographies including rap sheets, medical treatments, visitors, letters received and sent while in prison and descriptive physical data.

World War One Draft Registration Cards (1917-1918)

Among the 24 million original World War I Draft Registration Cards, you will find some from the renowned people from that era including Al Capone, Babe Ruth, Louis Armstrong and Robert Frost.  Although only two million were drafted, the draft registration cards are among the premier records available at NARA’s southeast region.
Draft registration cards from World War II through the Vietnam era are available for the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Privacy Act restrictions may apply in some cases.

Tennessee Valley Authority (excellent for research of the Great Depression)

The Tennessee Valley Authority contains almost 800,000 images, many of which were taken of families, homes, cemeteries, schools, farms, towns, and buildings – many of which are no longer standing.  As a major part of the New Deal Act during the Great Depression of the 1930s, they constructed dams and hydroelectric plants, brought electric power to predominately rural homes, replanted forests and fought malaria. These documents and photographs provide a unique window into the lives of the people of that region under the worst economic conditions.

One of TVA’s responsibilities was to relocate families and cemeteries that were threatened by flooding in the Tennessee Valley region.  Those relocation files are an incredibly valuable source of genealogical information on families living in the region served by the TVA.

The Tuskegee Study (1930s-1972)

This study, begun in the 1930s, offers uncaptioned, unidentified images taken by the U.S. Public Health Service.  Centered throughout the county seat of Tuskegee, Alabama, black men were give periodic medical examinations but were not treated for syphilis. 

Women’s Work in War Industries

Women join the work force and spark labor reform marked the headlines of the day.  World War II had several fronts – European, Asia and the home front.  As more and more men left to fight in the war, the opportunities for women in a variety of industries surged.  Women played a vital role in previously male dominated roles such as welders and riveters, shipbuilders, and ordnance manufacturing.  Between 1940 and 1945, the percentage of women in the U.S. Workforce increased from 27 to about 37 percent.  By 1945, almost one fourth of married women worked outside the home.  Although the historical transformation of women to the workforce during World War II proved temporary, their achievements in the workforce proved they were more than capable workers and were a catalyst in the feminist movement of the 1950s.

Other related jobs that became available to women during the war were in auxiliary services of the Armed Forces.  They included the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), and Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).  The women in the military were captured by pamphlets and brochures produced during the war by the various branches.  One such example can be found in Record Group 498, Records of the European Theater of Operations (ETO), United States Army (World War II) entitled “The Story of the WAC in the ETO.”

The United States Census Records from 1790-1930 (1940 will be available beginning April 2012)

The first Federal Population Census was taken in 1790, and has been taken every ten years since.  With a 72 year delay before release, the 1940 census won’t be available until April of 2012.  Except for the 1890 census that was mostly destroyed in a fire, the census schedules are available from 1790 through 1930 on microfilm.  It should be noted that and have digitized many of the Federal Census records.  Although these are fee-based services, patrons of NARA can access both websites free of charge at any National Archives facility.

For the first 50 years of census taking, only the head of household is listed and the numbers of household members in selected age groups are listed.  Beginning with the 1850 census, additional details are provided including some or all of the following: names and ages of family members, their state or country of birth, their parent’s birthplace, year of immigration, street address, marital status and years married, occupation(s), value of their home and personal belongings, and the crops that they grew. 

The National Archives and Records Administration prepared two online documents to help researchers with the census records.  The first, “Clues in Census Records, 1790-1840” provides insights to genealogically useful information including Date of Birth, Military Services, Immigration and Nationalization, and Occupation and Economic Data.   The second online document, “Clues in Census Records, 1850-1930,” provided insights to a number of different census attributes including Date and Place of Birth, Date of marriage, Number of children, Immigration, Foreign-born Parents, Military Service, Real Property, and Economic Data.

Passenger Lists (Port of New York, 1820-1957; Baltimore (1954-1957); Boston (1820-1891), Galveston, TX (1896-1951), Philadelphia (1883-1945), and Puerto Rico (1929-1932).

The passenger manifests, often referred to as passenger lists, document the immigration of millions of people into the United States from countries around the world.  The passenger arrival records provide important genealogical information including: Nationality and/or place of birth, Ship name and date of entry into the United States, age, height, eye and hair color, profession, place of last residence, name /address of relatives they are joining in the U.S. and the amount of money they are carrying.  They records have been microfilmed and are concentrated in two record groups, Record Group 36 for those created by the U.S. Customs Service and Record Group 85 for those created by the Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS]. 

The New York Arrivals have been indexed and are available via online searchable databases, depending on their date of arrival.  Castle Garden, active from 1855-1890, provides a database that includes 10 million emigrants from 1830 through 1892.  Information provided for these records included age, sex, literacy, occupation, country of origin, port of embarkation, date of arrival into New York, and ship name.

The Ellis Island Foundation offers an online searchable database of 22.5 million immigrant arrivals to New York for the years 1892-1924. 

NARA Southeast Region holds microfilm copies for ports along the Eastern seaport in addition to Canadian border points of entry. While the specific microfilm pertaining to passenger arrival records held by the southeast regional archives is selective, the records of passenger arrivals are also available at which can be accessed free of charge at any National Archives facility.

To maximize results from researching of passenger arrival records, a quick review of the relevant history of legislation that pertains to the creation of passenger lists is highly recommended.

Notable Legislative Acts involving immigration include:

  • 1819: Act of March 2, 1819 (3 Stat. 489) formally requires passenger manifests to be created beginning January 1, 1820
  • 1882: The first law regulating immigration (22 Stat. 214-215) is passed
  • 1891: Modifications of the 1882 act and establishment of the Office of Superintendent of Immigration under the Department of the Treasury
  • 1895: Responsibility for administering the Alien Contract-Labor Laws were added and designation as a Bureau
  • 1900: Chinese-Exclusion Laws enacted
  • 1903: The Bureau became part of the Department of Commerce and Labor.  Name changed to Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization
  • 1906: Functions added related to naturalization and amendments to the immigration act
  • 1933: Functions transferred to the Department of Labor and the newly formed Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
  • 1940: INS moved to the Department of Justice
  • 2003 INS abolished and immigration and naturalization recordkeeping functions were transferred to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Department of Homeland Security.

Researching NARA Online

NARA offers several ways to access records online through their public website via a select list of NARA databases. 

ARC / Archival Research Catalogue

The Archival Research Catalogue or ARC is an online catalog of NARA's holdings nationwide including Washington, DC area, Regional Archives and the Presidential Libraries.  Descriptions are available on over 68 percent of NARA's holdings with more descriptions added on a regular basis.  Researchers can perform searches on ARC using keywords, Description Identifier Search, type of archival materials, location of archival materials, level of description – all with date options.  This translates to descriptions of NARA records and approximately 155,000 digitized copies of records. Unlike AAD or, the ARC is a catalog, not a database of records. ARC’s coverage of NARA’s holdings is significant, particularly in the area of photographic and motion picture holdings.

One of the popular ways to utilize the ARC is by Researching by Topic.  The ARC offers predefined topical headings including:

  • America’s Founding Documents (The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and Articles of Confederation)
  • People (Genealogy, Ethnic Heritage, Presidents and Famous People and Women)
  • Federal Government Records (Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches of the Federal government, Elections and Federal Employees)
  • Events (Pre 19th Century, 19 Century, 20th Century, Recent History)
  • War, Foreign Policy and Military Records (Civil War, World War II, Vietnam War, Other Wars, Foreign Policy and Military Records)
  • Places (Cities and States, Exploration and Westward Expansion, Maps and Architectural Records)
  • Art, Culture and Technology (The Arts, Aviation and Space, Science and Technology)

AAD / Access to Archival Databases

In 2003, NARA launched its Access to Archival Databases (AAD) research tool. Developed as the first publicly accessible application developed by NARA offers access to a specific type of electronic records – databases and records structured like databases.  Major categories of database information include Genealogy / Personal History, Indexes to Photographs & Textual Records, Private Sector Records, Places, Wars / International Relations and Government Spending.

Some of the more notable databases in AAD included

  • Combat casualties from the Vietnam and Korean Wars
  • POWs from World War II and the Korean War
  • Records on Trading of Securities by Corporate Insiders
  • World War II Army Enlistment Records

ALIC / Archives Library Information Center

The ALIC is designed to provide NARA staff and external researchers with access to information on American History and government, archival administration, information management, and general documents.  Most searches are for Books or Articles within periodical literature held by the National Archives. “The ALIC exists to provide staff and researchers ready access to the background and context information necessary to describe, organize, and access the essential evidence in NARA records.”

Guide to Federal Records

The web based version of the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States is based on a paper version with the same title compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al in 1995 and is regularly updated with descriptive information to reflect new acquisitions of federal records.  The Guide to Federal Records offers a very high level general overview of records that originated in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the federal government at the record group level.

The organization of the Guide to Federal Records might include a chapter heading; administrative history; records type summary; any subgroup(s) of records; any part of a subgroup; and, possibly general records subgroups.

Online Public Access System

Just released at the end of 2010, the Online Pubic Access System was a key component in NARA’s Transformation Plan that provides access to digitized records and information about their records.  It also provides a portal or centralized search of:

  • The Archival Research Catalog (ARC) for catalog descriptions, histories and biographies (All the data from ARC);
  • Access to Archival Databases (AAD) for electronic records (seven series from AAD containing 10.9 million permanent electronic records); and
  • (one million electronic records currently in the Electronic Records Archives)


The National Archives and Records Administration, Southeast Region facility offers and incredible opportunity for both the amateur family historian and the professional genealogical researcher to uncover a multitude of Federal records that help to describe the person or family and provide many clues to how they lived and the conditions they lived under.  The facility is modern and relatively new and provides vast resources, including professional archivists that can respond to questions from researchers; catalog and describe available records; and most importantly preserve valuable records created by the United States Federal government for many generations to come.

Resources We Have… National Archives and Records Administration, Southeast Region, Pamphlet on Family History Sources, Draft Registration Cards.  Retrieved from   

A Piece of Women’s History in Record Group 498: “The WAC” National Archives The Text Message: The work and discoveries of processing and reference archivists on the job.  Retrieved from

Clues in Census Records, 1790-1840, National Archives and Records Administration.  Retrieved from    

Clues in Census Records, 1850-1930, National Archives and Records Administration, Updated 2 December 2002.  Retrieved from    

The Guide and Other Online Finding Aids, About the Guide to Federal Records of the National Archives and Records Administration.  Retrieved from             

Access to Archival Databases (AAD) and the Archival Research Catalog (ARC): Two Case Studies. Know Your Records Lecture Series, January 12 & 14, 2010.  Retrieved from

ALIC Mission and Goals retrieved from
Immigration Records (Ship Passenger Arrival Records and Land Border Entries) Updated February 1, 2010, National Archives and Records Administration, Research Our Records.  Retrieved from            



  • NARA in Atlanta, Jay Hakes and Jim McSweeney, American Historical Association, from the Annual Meeting 2007 column of the October 2006 Perspectives.  Retrieved from  Last Updated: 29 January 2008
  • Descriptions in ARC from our Southeast Region’s Firsthand History exhibit, National Archives and Records Administration, Archival Research Catalog (ARC).  Retrieved from
  • Inside the National Archives, Southeast Region, NARA’s Southeast Region Home with links to online exhibits on the Earliest Archival Records, Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Draft Registration (1917-1918), Tennessee Valley Authority, Tuskegee Study (1930s-1972), Federal Courts and Civil Rights, Southeast Region Family Album, and Our Favorite Records.  Retrieved from
  • The National Archives & It’s Regional Archives System by Gene F. Williams, CG.  Retrieved from
  • Documents from the National Archives, Women in Industry, World War II, Produced by the Education Brach, Office of Public Programs, National Archives and Records Administration in cooperation with American Historical Association, Community College Humanities Association, and Organization of American Historians.  Retrieved from
  • An Interview with NARA Archivist Shane Bell, 2011, Paul Ament-Gjenvick.  Portions previously transcribed and submitted as part of the coursework for ARST 5000, Principles and Practices in Archives.
  • Census Records, Research Our Records, National Archives and Records Administration.  Retrieved from
  • National Archives and Records Administration Southeast Region Accessions and Openings, 1st July 2001 through 31 July 2011. Compiled by Paul Ament-Gjenvick, See Appendix A, NARA Acquisitions
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