Do You Have Suggestions for NARA’s Digitization Priorities?

As the National Archives sets out on its ambitious goal to digitize all of its holdings, planning just how we’re going to accomplish this is critical to our success.  One of the first steps in that plan is prioritizing what will be digitized.  National Archives staff spent the early part of this summer doing just that – compiling lists and determining priorities for records that should be digitized and made available online.  The separate lists will be the basis of an Agency-wide digitization priority list. But no prioritization would be complete without the feedback and suggestions of the people who discover and use our records every day.  What would you like to see the National Archives digitize over the next few years?  Is there a particular theme, topic, or event on which you would like to see our digitization efforts focused?  Perhaps there is a specific series, record group, or collection that you would like to be made completely accessible online.  Ever come across interesting records during your research that you think would be a good candidate for digitization?  Now is your chance to tell us! From now until August 14th, engage in the discussion about digitization priorities in our online town hall on Crowd Hall.  Post ideas, provide feedback, and make suggestions about what we should digitize.  Then vote on your favorites.  Since our holdings cover a lot of topics, we’ve broken them down into broad categories.  While not a comprehensive list, hopefully, the topics below will spark some lively discussions:

  • Science/Tech/Health: Agriculture, Environment, Public Health, Science and Technology, Space and Aviation
  • Military & Veterans: Military/Wars, Veterans
  • Culture & Heritage: Civil/Political Rights, Genealogy, Ethnic Heritage, Immigration/Emigration
  • Government & Law: Diplomacy/Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, Court Records, Law Enforcement, Maritime Administration, Geography and Land Use

In addition to Crowd Hall, you’re welcome to make suggestions in the comments section on this blog post or email us at  We may not be able to respond to all submissions but we will be reading all of them!  What are you waiting for?  Join the discussion about digitization priorities!

Posted in Digitization | Tagged , | 62 Comments

Army Reference Roundtable

B-274 Company A, 9th Indiana Infantry

Company A, 9th Indiana Infantry (111-B-274), Matthew Brady Photographs, Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, RG 111, National Archives Identifier 524693

Please join us on Wednesday July 29, 2015 at 11:00 a.m. for our next Army Reference Roundtable. The session will be held in Room G-25 at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Learn from the experts who work with records of the Old Army from the Revolutionary War to the beginning of the 20th Century! Come learn about the following:

  • Records relating to women in the Army, and search paths/finding aids available for researching women
  • Field records of military hospitals and how to properly use the hospital index
  • Carded Medical Records and Medical Officers’ Files
  • Regimental book records
  • Other topics to be determined
  • Meet our wonderful summer interns!

The session is free and open to the public. We hope to see you there!

Posted in DC-area Researchers, Events, Genealogy / Family History, Research, Veterans / Military | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Virtual Volunteering, Retirement Project 2.0

Today’s post comes from Suzanne Isaacs of the Digital Public Access Branch in the Office of Innovation. 

Recently I met Alex Smith through an email he sent to Through our correspondence I learned that he began transcribing our records as a retirement project. I was really interested in transcription through the eyes of a Citizen Archivist and Mr. Smith was kind enough to answer my questions.

If you would like to become a Citizen Archivist and tag, transcribe, subtitle or upload and share visit

Tell us a little about yourself – What did you do before retirement?


I was a college administrator before retirement. For 30 years I was the registrar at Susquehanna University (so on a small scale I am used to dealing with records), and prior to that I was the director of continuing education. I received a B.A. in English at Bowdoin College and an M. A. in English at the University of Chicago. I have always loved history, but I have never done much work involving primary documents before.


How did you find out about transcription in the National Archives’ Catalog?

Late last year I read a brief newspaper article about the transcription project (I think that it was in the New York Times arts and entertainment section), and it immediately got my attention. Like many people on the verge of retirement, I was increasingly concerned about how I was going to handle the void created by no longer having to go to the office, and this project seemed fascinating to me. It really appeared to be an ideal option – I could do it from home or from the library at whatever pace I chose, I had the opportunity to pursue topics that interested me (a common question I get from friends is “Do they send you documents to transcribe?” and I explain that the transcriber is in complete control of finding whatever material which he or she would like to do, whether it’s Al Capone, Harry Truman’s diary, or First Ladies’ recipes. The same flexibility pertains to the length of the document. If I have a quarter of an hour of free time with no particular way to fill it, I can log on and transcribe a telegram or a couple of menus or one of the index cards for the Office of Indian Affairs and have a sense of productivity rather than of having just wasted time), if I needed to take time off for a vacation or for family matters I would not inconvenience anyone, and the project allowed me to go on learning (and in an entertaining manner at that). When I logged in for the first time this June I found that the reality was even better than my expectations had been.

How many have you transcribed?

According to the My Account feature which your website has, I have entered 576 documents during the month of June, which is the first month I have worked on this project.

How do you select your records for transcription? Do you have a favorite subject area?

When I started I thought that I was going to select records by favorite topics (e.g. I have a long-standing interest in the Titanic, so I entered that as one of my first topics). However, I have found that one of the major pleasures of this process to me is coming upon the unknown. I began by entering the topic “telegram,” since I thought that most telegrams would be relatively short and in printed form, so they would be a good choice for easing my way into transcription. In the course of transcribing telegrams, I came across one from prohibition agents in the 1920’s, and it made me curious about their work so I entered “prohibition.” This led to an intriguing series of documents from a couple of agents who were investigating the seemingly corrupt mayor of Tacoma Washington, who appeared comically inept at defending himself against their questions. Another telegram came from Cordell Hull, in whom my father had had an interest, so I entered Cordell Hull’s name as a topic and found a large number of letters between Hull and Franklin Roosevelt. For me the process has become sort of like those lucky-dip booths which they used to have at county fairs, where you threw a fishing line behind a screen and discovered what surprise prize you pulled out. I enter names of public figures from books I have been reading (e.g. Jeffrey Frank’s study of the relationship between Nixon and Eisenhower led me to enter Sherman Adams, John Bricker, Meade Alcorn, and Ann Whitman, among others), but sometimes now I will just enter a first or last name like “Edith” or “Chapman” and see what sort of documents appear. Similarly, I will enter a broad topic like “family” or “tax” or “execution” or “treason” and see which of the results most interests me. This makes sure there is a lot of variety in the process and keeps my interest level high.

You mention you’ve convinced friends to start transcribing too. What do you tell them? We’d love to hear your pitch!

I honestly don’t have a pitch which has recruited others to the site. The process really seems to sell itself to my friends who are in my age group. I just start telling them enthusiastically about the sort of things I am discovering in the archives and they get intrigued. I say that I have transcribed a telegram of congratulations to Jack Kennedy on getting the Democratic presidential nomination from Harpo Marx, who wrote, “1. Congratulations. 2. Do you need a harp player in your cabinet?” I tell them that I have transcribed the WWI draft registration documents for Ty Cobb and Fred Astaire, a petition to Woodrow Wilson from Jane Addams protesting the deportation of Emmeline Pankhurst, the FBI interview with Jack Ruby’s sister, the last telegram to the Secretary of State from the Saigon Embassy saying, “We’re evacuating at midnight,” some of Alger Hiss’s deposition (he probably was unwise in closing with “I believe my record in government and outside speaks for itself.” ), and the correspondence from the mayor of Kent, Ohio asking the Ohio National Guard for assistance in quelling the student protests, which includes the unfortunate phrase “I leave the mode and means of execution to your discretion.” Even seemingly dry documents may include a happy surprise. After the flu pandemic of 1919 the U. S. Navy came up with a list of recommendations to prevent contagion. In among the usual statements about staying in well-ventilated areas and not coughing in public was the injunction “Don’t expectorate promiscuously.” Hearing about such things seems to make the past more vivid and to intrigue some of my friends, who become interested in finding out what they might discover among the tens of thousands of documents to be transcribed. There also is an interest in seeing what indeed qualifies as a historical document. When I was talking with our university archivist about my surprise at finding scores of Bess Truman’s menus in the archives, she quickly told me that these could be very interesting to a historian in a couple hundred years in the same way that the university archivist would really love to know the daily menus of Martha Washington or Abigail Adams.

The other appeal to my recently retired friends is the chance to do something useful. Retirement gives many opportunities for leisure pleasure – reading, gardening, travel – and for helping with family activities. What many of us who are retired lack, however, unless we are active in civic or church groups, is any sense of worthwhile activity beyond the realm of the family. If our jobs have been important to us, this is a serious loss, and I think that finding a sense of purpose becomes one of the major challenges of old age. A couple of the people who have expressed an interest in this project were quite explicit about the pleasure it would give them to be doing something that matters for an organization as important as the National Archives.

Posted in Catalog, Research | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Civil Reference Team Roundtable

Join us on Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 11:00 am as the Archives I Textual Reference Services Branch presents a Civil Reference Team Roundtable. The session will be held in room G-25 at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.


Photograph of a family with their covered wagon during the Great Western Migration. National Archives Identifier 518267

Learn from the experts who work with the records! Speakers and topics include:

Bill Creech: Discussion of civil records restricted due to privacy and records of concern.

Robert Ellis: Discussion of court records – new finding aids as well as interesting case files. Additionally, Robert will talk about small series of records that might be of interest to genealogists and researchers.

Marie Maxwell: RG 351 series that have been sitting on the shelf for years but have been just described in the last 2 years. Ms. Maxwell will focus on property related series and the papers of the Board of Commissioners

George Shaner: “Like a homestead, but not.” Timber Culture & Desert Land Final Certificates are conceptually like Homesteads in that the enabling acts that established these options presumed that the entry man is going to receive land at a reduced rate on the basis of their sweat equity. Besides talking about how one distinguishes these files from homestead final certificates in the relevant finding aids (not always clear), George will also talk a bit about the problematic aspects of these types of land-entry files (particularly timber culture).

Rebecca Sharp: Discussion of a database project that Rebecca is currently working on.  Once completed, this finding aid will allow researchers to efficiently request the applicable Registers for Star Route Contracts volumes (Entry Entry 125, Record Group 28, Records of the Post Office Department).

This session is free and open to the public. We hope to see you there!


Posted in DC-area Researchers, Events, Research | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Are You Working On, Sara Lathom?

Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency.

What is your name and title?
Sara Lathom, Student Trainee (Archival Science), Archives Technician

Sara Lathom

Sara painting Aunt Polly’s white fence for Tom Sawyer in Hannibal, MO the boyhood home of Mark Twain.

Where is your job located?
National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO

What is your job in a nutshell?
I recently became a Correspondence Technician in November 2014 under the Pathways Program. I respond to requests for military, medical (inpatient and outpatient) for military and dependents, and all other records needed. I send these to veterans, family members, Congressional offices, and any other customer who has authorization for the records. I also respond to Freedom of Information Act and Archival (records 62 years or older) requests.

What are you working on right now? (Why is it cool/why does it matter?)
I am two-thirds of the way through training. There is so much to learn about military records! I really enjoy it because there is always something new to learn, and I enjoy the challenge.

How long have you been at NARA? Have you worked at any other NARA location?
I have been with NARA for over a year now. I came to NARA in December 2013 as a temporary Pathways employee, working in the Records Retrieval Branch – Refile department here at NPRC. I do not miss climbing the ladders!

What has changed since you started at NARA?
There have been some shifts in personnel. I am always excited to see people with great talent moving up.

Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?
We had a “Chip In” over-time event back in September 2014 where I came in as having refiled the most records for the day – 1,211!

What are your passions or interests outside of work?
I hopefully will be in possession of a bassoon here in the next couple weeks. I studied bassoon in my undergraduate with a member of The Cleveland Orchestra. I’m excited to have the time and opportunity to play with a local community orchestra this year!

What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?
I recently read one of Mary Roach’s books, and it was oddly interesting. I think I’d like to read “Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal” next.

Are there any other cool facts that you would like folks to know about you?
I moved here from Ohio to take my first job at NARA. It was a huge risk: I didn’t have any money to move and I wasn’t sure my car was even going to make the drive. Thankfully it all worked out! I am really happy to be working for NARA. I hope that maybe someday I can transfer to an east coast facility, so I can be closer to my family in Pittsburgh.

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Navy Maritime Reference Roundtable

Join us on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at 11:00 am for our next Reference Roundtable session on Navy and Maritime related records.  The session will be held in room G-25 at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Learn from the experts who work with the records! We will be discussing new searching tools and finding aids and recent discoveries, including a late 18th Century British Navy Letter Book and Lighthouse Reservation Files.

Please see the full agenda here: Navy Maritime Reference Roundtable Agenda

This session is free and open to researchers and the public. We hope to see you there!

Constitution sail plan

RG 19, Bureau of Ships, Still Picture Division, 19-N-9982, National Archives Identifier 512970

Posted in DC-area Researchers, Events, Research | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

What Are You Working On, Jessica Sims?

Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency.

What is your name and title?

Jessica Sims (I go by Jessie) and I am an Audio-Video Preservation Specialist.

Jessie Sims

Where is your job located?

Audio-Video Preservation Lab – Archives II – College Park, MD.  Some folks don’t even know we exist, but we do and are located in the basement!

What is your job in a nutshell?

In a nutshell, I make new copies of old sound recordings and videotapes so that they can be accessed by researchers and staff and preserved for the long term.  Due to the inherent instability of audio and video records, our goal is to create high-quality master preservation files of the original content in digital form that will not only serve as a preservation master of the original, but also may be easily accessed for research purposes.

For both analog and digital formats, the more the media is used and migrated, the more at risk the overall recording becomes – so we take our job very seriously when it comes to ensuring we make the best possible transfer of our records.

What are you working on right now?  (Why is it cool/why does it matter?)   

We currently have a few exciting things going on in the A/V Lab!  I am working on an audio preservation project from the Ford Presidential Library as well as a video preservation project in our SCIF.

To give a bigger picture of things going on in the Lab, we are updating our storage infrastructure to support the  increasing amount of data we create in the Special Media Labs.  With the help from staff in Information Services, the Audio-Video Lab has recently acquired 30 terabytes of working storage on spinning disk with an additional 350 terabytes of permanent storage using a managed LTO-6 tape library.  Storage is a very important aspect of our job because we create very large, uncompressed preservation files.  All derivatives are sent to the online catalog, but we continue to run into the issue of running out of storage because we are creating more and more digital content.

While this upgrade most definitely helps us for the time being, the Special Media Labs as well as the rest of NARA will continue to need more storage as we create more data and we will need to move our focus to an agency-wide level infrastructure update at some point in the very near future to support our mission to preserve and make accessible NARA’s records.

How long have you been at NARA?  Have you worked at any other NARA location?

I’ve been at College Park for six years – prior to coming here, I worked at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in the Audiovisual Archives.  At the Library, I wasn’t a full-fledged government employee just-yet, I worked for the Foundation.

What has changed since you started at NARA?

A lot has changed since I started, including making a complete analog to digital transition which means we have strictly a digital workflow in the Lab.  We have just implemented new video editing and encoding workstations after significant R&D and we are providing more files to the online catalog than we have been able to do in the past.

Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?

A few years ago, we received a handful of Tokyo Rose glass disc recordings in the Lab that needed to be reformatted for preservation.  While fragile and not in the best shape, these recordings were pretty awesome!  Used as propaganda during World War II by Japanese radio to lower the morale of GI’s in the South Pacific, the programs we received were hosted by Orphan Ann; she would often refer to troops as “wandering boneheads of the Pacific Islands,” and provide playful banter and sappy American love songs during the program.

There’s speculation as to whether the broadcasts actually hurt morale of the GI’s, but nonetheless, it was a pretty entertaining program to listen to!

What are your passions or interests outside of work?

Outside of work I love to cook, bake, and run.  I have a dog (named Jazz) and he is the perfect running partner, so we spend a lot of outdoors time together.

Jessie Sims

What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?

The last book I tried  to read was Game of Thrones – I love the HBO series, but just can’t get through the book!  I would have to say the last book I loved was a collection of short stories from NPR’s National Story Project: I Thought My Father was God and Other True Tales.  All true-life stories, this book gives a wonderful insight into the human experience of life and was absolutely wonderful.

Are there any other cool facts that you would like folks to know about you??

I’ve done a number of triathlons and while I’m not currently training for one, I continue to keep up with my workouts at the NARA gym with a group of friends.  We meet for spin on a regular basis and it’s a nice time to catch up and enjoy our time together.

I’m also a huge Lord of the Rings fan and have read the books and seen the movies many times!

Posted in Digitization, Preservation, What Are You Working On Wednesdays | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Transcribe #1000pages for Sunshine Week

NARA is excited to participate in Government-wide Sunshine Week activities by launching our first Transcription Challenge in the National Archives Catalog!

Here at the Archives, we like to say that there is a story in every box. Help us unlock those stories by transcribing the digitized records in the catalog.  Our goal this week is to complete 1,000 transcriptions from Monday, March 16th through Monday, March 23rd.

#1000pages graphic

Get started by visiting the Transcription Challenge page on the Citizen Archivist Dashboard. You’ll find instructions on how to create an account and transcription missions, tips, and individual records to transcribe.

Do you have favorite records already online the catalog and you think they’d be good for the challenge?  Email us at so we can add it to our web page.

Tweet us @USNatArchives using the hashtag #1000pages to let us know what you’re working on and what you find in the records!

Follow us throughout the week to keep up with our progress.  Will we reach #1000pages?  Not unless you accept the challenge!

Ready.  Set.  Transcribe!

Posted in Catalog, Digitization, Open Government, Social Media (Web 2.0) | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

@ThisisArchives staff Twitter account

Are you interested in learning more about the many different projects and employees at the National Archives? We are excited to introduce a new staff-run Twitter account: @ThisisArchives!

Each week, a different National Archives employee will take a turn on Twitter, sharing details about our profession, projects we are working on, and what it’s like to be an employee at the National Archives.

We think this will be a fun way to show the diversity of NARA staff and jobs across the country, and give you an opportunity to get to know our staff while we provide an inside look at some of our current projects.

Image of Women in county vocational school, 1942.
What are you working on, NARA employees?
Image from Record Group 208: Records of the Office of War Information, 1926 – 1951. National Archives Identifier 535579

This project is inspired by similar projects from the State of Vermont (@ThisisVT) and Wikipedia (@WeAreWikipedia).

We’ll be kicking off the project on March 16, just in time for Sunshine Week. You can follow along at @ThisisArchives. We can’t wait to introduce you to some of the great people and projects at the National Archives!

For Sunshine week, we will also be kicking off a Transcription Challenge with the goal of transcribing more than 1,000 pages in a week!  We need your help to meet that goal.  We hope you’ll join us in working to transcribe historical records in our new National Archives Catalog and join in on Twitter with the hashtag #1000pages.

Posted in Social Media (Web 2.0), What Are You Working On Wednesdays | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What's New On Amara?

Last March we introduced you to our new crowdsource video caption tool, Amara. This neat tool allows anyone with an interest in transcribing our motion picture collection to join our team and start typing what you hear! After the captioning is done in Amara, the captions are transferred back to YouTube, making our holdings accessible to even more people and 508 compliant (a win win!).

One of the projects that has been very successful on Amara is with World War I & II films, an ongoing digitization project.  We’ve already uploaded 15 videos with full audio, and asked our team members to caption the dialog in those videos. While this project has helped us overcome disabilities and language barriers with our users, we also have over 50 silent films that we would like to make more accessible too. How will we do this? With tagging, of course! Take a look at our tagging instructions for the World War I Silent Films, and help us pioneer this new way of approaching digitizing these videos.

Project Goal

The goal of the Tagging Project is to describe the visual information within a specific project of videos on the National Archives Amara team. These tags will make it easy for users to search our video archive for what they’re looking for.


1. Go to this project on the National Archives Amara team:

2. Click on a video thumbnail

amara 1

3. Click “Add a new language”

amara 2

4. Then select English for both drop down selections

amara 3

Since these videos have no spoken audio, your role will be to add text describing the visual information. The more specific you can be with your text, the better. For example, instead of saying { Tank } it would be better to say { Iosif Stalin Tank }. To help distinguish these tags from captioned text, please include these tags within curly brackets { like this! }.

Happy tagging!

Posted in Digitization, Films | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment