Two Steps Every Researcher Should Take

Every time I hear a story about a researcher spending money to travel to a National Archives facility only to find out the records they seek aren’t at that location, are unavailable for research, or that the reference staff are unable to assist the research in the short travel window they have available, I cringe. This is a very frustrating scenario, but it luckily it can be avoided by following these two easy steps:

Search the National Archives Catalog

Go to the National Archives Catalog and search for your research topic. If you’re having trouble finding relevant results, try narrowing your search with the refine options on the left side of the screen or by conducting an advanced search. Of course, if you have any questions about how to use the Catalog, please contact the National Archives Catalog staff.

Once you’ve found records that interest you and you decide to make a trip to a National Archives facility to view them, first confirm their availability by checking their Access Restriction(s) under “Details.” If “Unrestricted,” you should be able to view the records without issue. If “Restricted – Possibly,” “Restricted – Partly,” or “Restricted – Fully” then you may be unable to view them.


If you are interested in coming to view those records, bookmark the URL or note the National Archives Identifier (NAID) of the records. This will come in handy in the next step when you contact us.

Contact Us

Regardless of the Access Restriction(s) please contact the reference unit listed in the Catalog description under “Archives Copies.” It is very important that you contact us three or more weeks before any planned visit to give the reference staff enough time to do appropriate investigation and preparation. Some records are even stored offsite and require transfer to the research facility. If you don’t allow this time, staff may be unable to help you when you arrive.

Reference staff will be able to inform you of the availability of the records and possibly prepare them for your visit if available for research. Give them either the URL you bookmarked or the NAID you recorded. Please note, not all facilities will prepare records in advance of your visit.


visit1Even if you don’t find anything of interest, contact us. If you know which facility you need to visit, contact them directly (list of locations with contact information here). If you are unsure of which facility might hold records relevant to your interest, use the general contact us form. It’s possible the records you seek haven’t been described yet, or weren’t described in a way that corresponded to the keywords you entered in your search. A reference archivist will be able to help you further. Also, be sure to check our FAQs for answers to some of our most commonly asked questions.

Hopefully these tips can help you avoid some common roadblocks. Happy researching!


11 thoughts on “Two Steps Every Researcher Should Take

  1. I find that National Catalog is very slow to use, even here at the Archives. When I limit searches to just digital copies, I quickly give up. I find the Library of Congress site for Prints and Photographs much more effective.
    Thanks for useful article.

  2. My interest is in contacting a friend. We were close when we were growing up in Cuba, during our pre-teen and teenage years. We are now in our late 70s, looking back at lives well lived and forward to seeing our young ones (grandchildren) grow. I have a telephone number that doesn’t answer calls and I’m not fantastically healthy and would like to be able to speak with him again. Could you help me? He is Capt. Pedro Pablo Perez Hería, naturalized citizen, served in the army and is now retired in Florida.

  3. I am trying to get a copy of the order awarding me the DFC for a flight of 12 hours as a helicopter gunship pilot during Tet of 1972 for which my unit decided to give us the medal the day after the flight as an impact award where we wouldn’t have to wait weeks or months to wear the ribbon on our uniforms. I also won the Vietnamese

    1. My request continues:
      I think I ran out of room above so here is the continuation from exactly where I left off…
      …….I also was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for the same action by the Vietnamese Government showing their appreciation for saving the lives of 27 of their soldiers so the citation for that in your archives will tell you the exact date of my heroic action. 450 NVA (North Vietnam Army) Regulars (Soldiers) we’re shooting at me from as close as 400 feet as well as 6 50 caliber machine guns shooting at me as well because this NVA Regiment was reinforced with an anti-aircraft unit consisting of six 50 calibre machine guns. We were credited with knocking our 5 of the 6 machine guns (50 calibre) and 37 blood trails indicating that we probably keep killed or wounded at least that many enemy but since we were there all night shooting our 20 rockets a side (total of 40 rockets) and two mini guns, one either side of our gunship we more than likely killed and wounded many many more because every hour twenty minutes we had to go rearm and refuel so we put in excees of 400 seventeen pound rockets into the enemy position that night as well as a whole host of grenades launched by our gunship and you can multiply that by two because gunships we’re always launched in a pair such that while the first rolls in begining our attack in a racetrack pattern from 1500 feet breaking at only 400 feet for the closet mb aback up to 1500 feet to begin the run again, theory being that while you are so exposed to enemy fire on such close proximity (400 feet), your other gunship is beginning his run from altitude and his rockets and mini-guns will keep the enemies heads down such that they will be too afraid to get killed to bother shooting at us but in reality it was the crew chief and gunner each with a 30mm machine gun firing from the rear that could pinpoint and place accurate fire on anyone they saw shooting at us which really kept us alive, that and God. Anyway, I never received the order allowing me to wear the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) but it never mattered until now because I am currently running for the United States Senate and this award will help immensely in helping me get elected. I announce at the last possible moment to keep my opponent, Senator Marco Rubio, from amassing too much information about me too soon. So thank you for helping me.

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