by Linda Kush
Like many people, I began my family history research at my regional National Archives office. There was something exciting about the whir of the microfilm machines in that dark room and the eureka moment of finding a missing ancestor on a ship manifest. And, while there is probably a U.S. National Archives center near you, today, you don’t have to travel at all to access many of their records. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) offers a rich trove of online documents, known as Access to Archival Databases (AAD), and it’s completely free.
Digging Into The National Archives Access to Archival Databases (AAD)
While the AAD is not a substitute for the vast library available at the regional centers, there are 27 categories containing millions of records to bolster your family tree.
You will find a variety of United States government records including Social Security application and death records, immigration records from the 19th century, Japanese Americans detained during WWII, certain military death and service records, and some unusual databases you may not find elsewhere.
You can access all of these records and more via the AAD homepage.
Here’s a Look at Just Some of the Record Types Found in the National Archives Access to Archival Databases
A good example is the National Register of Scientific and Technical Personnel, 1954-1970. If you have an ancestor who worked in the U.S. as a scientist in the 1950s, you need to check it out.
This database contains responses of scientists to surveys conducted through national professional associations. I searched for Harry Volkman, a Chicago TV weatherman who used to display the American Meteorological Society seal at the beginning of each broadcast. I found his record, including his date of birth, education, nature of his work, foreign language spoken, and his salary in 1954.
Many of the immigration records are transcriptions of the valuable ship manifest indexes – Russians to America, Italians to American, and Germans to America – originally published in book form by the Center for Immigration Research (CIR).
The Famine Irish Data File, also compiled by the CIR, focuses on Irish immigrants who arrived in New York from 1846 to 1851. Individual records list the person’s name, age, country of origin, occupation, destination, and manifest number. You have to look up this number in a separate database to get the name of the ship, port of origin, and arrival date.
The Japanese-American Internment Data File documents a dark episode in American history when Japanese-Americans were moved to detention centers during World War II. The database includes each detainee’s name, year of birth, last city of residence before detention, location where detained, birthplace and occupation of parents, occupation, military record, and education.
The most extensive of AAD’s U.S. military records is a file of more than 9 million men who enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II. You can also check two files of military honors to find out whether your ancestor received a medal for military service.
Several other databases document those who were prisoners of war and those who died in Korea and Vietnam.
Trades and Securities
These last two databases may seem a bit out of place in a genealogy research set.
They are records of certain securities trades from 1972 through 2001, documenting trades by corporate insiders and sales of unregistered securities. What could they possibly have to do with genealogy?
In fact, each record includes the seller’s name and, when applicable, the seller’s role in a company, such as officer or director. If you got a hit, you would learn something about your ancestor’s professional life and at the very least know that he or she was in a position to own stocks at a particular time. There are more than 6 million records.
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Using the AAD’s Numerical Identification Files
The most useful place for general research in the AAD is the Numerical Identification Files database, which is the Social Security application and death files from 1936 through 2007. Let’s take a closer look at how to use this particular database.
This database contains records of people with verified deaths or who would have been 110 years old in 2007. The application record I searched revealed the person’s date and place of birth, parents’ names, and date she applied for a Social Security number. The death record also gave her date of death and the zip code of her residence when she died (learn more ways to find death records here).
To get started using this collection, go to the National Archives AAD homepage:
Now, under “Browse by Category”, click “Genealogy/Personal History.”
You will see a list of 27 databases. Scroll down to “Numerical Identification Files” and click “Show More” to see the complete list of files:
The databases are broken into several files alphabetically by last name. Find the appropriate one and click “search” or use the main search to search them all. This brings up a window where you enter the person’s information. Enter the first and last name, and click “search:”
This brings up “Display Partial Records.” If you come across an entry that looks promising, click the document symbol under “View Record.”
This can be a great database to confirm or discover parents’ names, birth dates and locations, death information, citizenship status and more. Make sure to click on the white paper icon at the left for the full record.
The National Archives databases are easy to use and to read, and there are plans to digitize more records in the future. I hope you find them useful in your family history research.
The animated GIF above is from the U.S. National Archives on Giphy. See more NARA GIFs here.
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Linda Kush is a freelance writer and genealogist in Boston. Her book, “The Rice Paddy Navy,” began as a family history project. She is gratified that it has helped family historians whose fathers and grandfathers served with her father in China in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Image at top: Photograph of Workers Unloading Veteran’s Bureau Records. National Archives on Flickr. Check out the entire National Archives photo collection on Flickr here.