What do all those numbers associated with NARA records mean?

So have you ever wondered what all the numbers are that NARA associates with its records?

If you have checked the Archival Research Catalog recently you might have noticed that one of our numbers has a new name.  The former Inventory Identifier has been renamed the Inventory Entry Number.  We heard from several researchers who asked for the change because “entry number” is the term they commonly hear staff use. 

Our records may also have declassification project numbers, accession numbers, records center transfer numbers, HMS/MLR entry numbers, record group numbers and other numbers.  In ARC you can search for records by these numbers using the description identifier field found under the advanced search.   Here is a brief primer on some of our most frequently used numbers:

Record Group (RG) number – A unique number assigned to each record group.  A record group is a grouping created by NARA that comprises the records of a large organization, such as a Government bureau or independent agency. To search ARC by RG number, enter the RG number in the description identifier field and then select just the record group in the level of description filter.  Click on “Search within” to search for series descriptions linked to that RG

Inventory Entry Number – A number used for archival materials described in an inventory or preliminary inventory of a Record Group or Collection. A basic archival finding aid, an inventory generally includes a brief administrative history of the organization(s) as well as series descriptions of their records.

Local Identifier – Local identifiers are created by local NARA units to identify particular archival materials. The local identifier may be used to capture the “series entry number” or “entry number” used in the NARA Regional Offices to identify series. The local identifier might not be unique. Different units may use the same local identifier for different archival materials.

HMS/MLR Entry Number – The finding aid designator (prefix and suffix) and the entry number (prefix and suffix) that together uniquely identify an entry in the Holdings Management System/Master Location Register (MLR) database, such as “A1 1077B.”.

Declassification Project Number – A unique number assigned to a specific block of records (a series, several series, a specific file folder, etc.) that has been reviewed for declassification.

11 thoughts on “What do all those numbers associated with NARA records mean?

  1. Rebecca, can you explain why the name “Variant Control Number(s)” was chosen over the easily recognized “Entry number?”

    It’s hard enough to explain numbers used for Record Group, microfilm publication and Entry and then try to explain why it’s called a “Variant Control Number(s).”

    1. Marie – “Variant Control Numbers” refers to a category or group of numbers rather than a specific type of number. Found within this category of numbers are some entry numbers but, not all of the variant control numbers are entry numbers. If you look at a description in our catalog you will see that for each variant control number listed in the description the type of number is provided (e.g., Inventory Entry Number, Declassification Project Number, Agency Disposition Number). Currently there are 24 variant control numbers.

      List of variant control numbers
      Agency Disposition Number
      Agency-Assigned Identifier
      Declassification Project Number
      FOIA Tracking Number
      Former ARC Identifier
      Former Local Identifier
      Former HMS/MLR Entry Number:
      Government Publication Number
      HMS/MLR Entry Number
      Inventory Entry Number
      Kennedy Assassination Document ID
      Local Identifier
      NAIL Control Number
      NAILTEX Control Number
      NUCMC Number
      Other Finding Aid Identifier
      Preliminary Checklist Identifier
      PRESNET Number
      Ref ID
      Search Identifier
      Select List Identifier
      WHORM Identifier
      XMIS Number
      Other Identifier

      I hope this sheds a little more light on the variant control numbers.

      – Rebecca

      1. I have a FOIA request that specifically asks the HMS entry/Accession number but can’t find it anywhere and it is mandatory to have on the sheet. What is it and where can I find it?

  2. If there are 24 variant control numbers, I suggest you add a unique field that will contain ONLY the “entry number” needed to request a file–and that the field be labeled “Entry number.” Apparently ARC will be undergoing a makeover. Can this change be introduced at that time?

    Thank you.

      1. A quick tip for those who aren’t familiar with requesting records described in ARC: The numbers needed to request records will vary depending on the NARA office that holds the records. Currently in ARC descriptions, next to the ARC Identifier, we display the number that our offices have indicated they would like researchers to use when requesting records. For our special media offices and our Regional archives, the number is the local identifier. For our Washington, DC-area textual records offices, the number is the HMS/MLR entry number. To request records you will need to contact the office listed in the description. In your request include the title and dates of the records, their record group number or collection identifier, and either the local identifier or the HMS/MLR entry number.

        – Rebecca

  3. I have this file #7372 that is the file for my ancestors bounty land warrant issued on May 14, 1790 (New York State- Rev. War service under Col. John Lamb’s Regiment Artillery at Fort Montgomery, NY) so all I need to find is what it says so can you tell me how I read it on-line?

    1. Diane, Based on the information you provide, it sounds like you are referring to a Revolutionary War pension/bounty land file. The original files have been microfilmed and are now digitized on Ancestry.com in the database “Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900.” While you can search the database, just be aware that you will need a paid subscription to view the digital images.

  4. I have learned our great grandmother was Cherokee. I am unable to find any information on her parents names and only know that the family bible lists her as being born in Texas. Her name was Lavisa Phillips, born 6 Mar 1861. Is this the site I need to be at?

    1. Hi Valerie,

      You could start you search by looking at the Dawes Commission records. You might be able to find something by searching on our website. You might also want to contact our regional facility in Ft. Worth, TX. They hold a lot of the Native American records, and should have some more suggestions. One other thing I would try is using the federal census records – if you can find her as a child, she should be living with her parents. The first census she will show up on is the 1870 census.

      – Katherine

  5. Hi,
    During a search of your archives I have located the following Microfilm result. When I open the document for further perusal I am presented with over 1,100 individual microfilm pages. Is there an easy way that I can locate the page which contains the information that I am interested in?

    Numerical File: 8753/201-8757
    From RG: 59
    Numerical Files
    the passport application of Paul Knox, a native citizen, who has taken up a residence in Russia in fulfilment of a the­ atrical engagement of indeterminate length. I have the honor to be, Sir, Your
    National Archives Identifier: 19917345 Container Identifier: Box 15, M862 Roll 631 HMS Entry Number(s): A1 192, A1 193, (…)
    Creator: Department of State. 9/1789-

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