Answered By: Staff Archives and Special Collections
Last Updated: Jul 13, 2016     Views: 62

If you’re seeking published materials, reports and such, those are often found through the Government Documents collection. If you’re seeking federal records, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is a great place to start. We asked a former NARA archivist to help us out with this question and here’s his advice:

Over the last ten years, NARA has steadily tried to increase public access to Federal records.  The entries in NARA's Online Public Access (OPA) online catalog are accessible directly from the NARA website, and appear in Google and other search platforms whenever you enter subject terms.

If what you’re looking for is specific to Alaska, it might be held at the Seattle NARA facility. This is a good place to start if you are seeking to obtain copies of Alaska-related records now in their holdings or that may be available at any of NARA's other repositories. You can either call directly or send an e-mail (include your name, address, and daytime telephone number).  The NARA standard is to acknowledge and/or answer incoming e-mail requests within ten working days. 

National Archives at Seattle: 6125 Sand Point Way, N.E.Seattle, WA  98115-7999Tel. (206) 336-5115 E-mail:

In general:

Getting started: Researchers who may not be already familiar with how to request original records from NARA should first take the tutorial on how to conduct research using original records at NARA.  If you go to the NARA page on starting your research, there are currently four choices:

  • Research online
  • Research in person
  • New to Archival Research?
  • Research a Specific Topic

How much help can the archivists at NARA provide? In the end, it is your responsibility to conduct your own research.  NARA does not have the staff nor is it funded to conduct extensive research for individuals, especially if you’re not able to identify very specific folders or sections of records (more on that in a moment).  You’ll need to identify the specific NARA repository, Record Group, Records Series, and specific file needed in order to locate or obtain access to the records or to make or order reproductions. This can often be a challenge, so if the information below and the NARA website aren’t quite getting you what you need, contact the Seattle office to ask for assistance.

How do you identify where records are and what you might need? On the NARA site, you can search the Online Public Access (OPA) catalog. If you did a search on "Alaska Reindeer' and then went through the catalog, it would give you a quick tutorial on how to locate specific records series at NARA's Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle, WA) or elsewhere (e.g. at NARA's repositories in the Washington, DC area.)  If there is a hit, open the field "Contact Information" or whatever and find the contact information for the NARA custodial unit holding the original records.  If the detailed finding aid has not been attached to the NARA descriptive cataloging record on OPA, then the best option is to use the e-mail feature and request a copy of the paper-based finding aid. Generally, researchers need to provide the record group number, records series title, and the OPA, National Archives, or ARC Identifier Number to obtain a copy of the pertinent finding aid.  After the finding aid has been received, it is the responsibility of the researcher to provide more specific information and to contact the specific NARA custodial unit, request a price quotation for copying the records, and then sending payment in advance. 

If the records of interest to you have been microfilmed: You may be able to get distance access to the film. NARA does not participate in the Interlibrary Loan program but many libraries hold copies of NARA microfilm so sometimes you can get them from other libraries even when you cannot borrow them from NARA directly. It’s possible that the Consortium Library may have copies of some of NARA microfilms, especially if the records relate to Alaska. If you search the library catalog, you’ll be able to see not only the Consortium Library’s holdings, but several other Alaskan libraries too. If you can’t find the microfilm you’re looking for through the Consortium Library catalog, you may want to check WorldCat (see the main Consortium Library webpage for a link) to see if any other libraries have it.

What to do if you need to visit a NARA facility: Do whatever you can to prepare in advance for a research visit by exploring the OPA online catalog and come up with as comprehensive a listing as possible of what you want to see.  Then, contact the NARA custodial unit holding the original records to confirm that they will be available in the research room. You’ll need a photo ID to get into the NARA facility. The other important thing to do is to scout out the NARA repository's home page and confirm their hours and days of availability. For example, NARA's research facilities in the Washington, DC area may not be open on Saturdays.  Once you’re at the Archives, it is your responsibility to identify the specific records needed and to use approved digital equipment (or NARA's own photocopiers) to make copies of pertinent records.

What to do if you can’t visit a NARA facility: If doing your own research in person isn’t an option, you can hire a researcher (this can be expensive). On the NARA homepage, type "Hire a Researcher" in the search box in the upper right-hand corner and you should get the list of options for hiring a researcher by name of specific facility or by the kind(s) of research request (e.g., military records, environmental records, etc.).

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