How could I not travel to the National Archives after being informed that “there were too many documents regarding my family’s years spent living in the Soviet Union for them to copy and send to me?” If only my father had known that. He would have been so excited to learn that his family’s correspondences were worthy enough to be stored at such a historic facility, but since He Was Always Bumping into History, this should not have come as a total surprise.
I had so many questions to answer before embarking on my journey and would recommend that anyone entertaining a visit there should research the process before their arrival. The National Archives has a wonderful page on their website to help answer many questions: http://www.archives.gov/research/start/plan-visit.html.
My first question was “should I call or write in advance of my visit?” The answer was yes, becauseI needed to determine whether my records were available online or only at the archives, and if so, which was the appropriate location to find the records of interest to me. SinceI had communicated with a specific archivist, I contacted her and was able to arrange to meet with her personally, which saved time because she had already done some advance research for me. I will also say that it is possible to perform some research without planning in advance.
The Washington, DC area has two locations: on in downtown Washington-Archives I- and the second in College Park, Maryland- Archives II. Archives I contains information such as military records prior to World War II, census records, and immigration and naturalization records. Archives II contains State Department and Consular records and military agency records after 1940. For specifics about both sites, visit the archives page http://www.archives.gov/research/order/textual-records-dc.html.
Once I determined that most of the records for my research were held at the College Park facility, I wondered what hotels were nearby. Again, the National Archives website has suggestions as well as information answering my questions about how do I get there, is there parking available, what are their hours, and is there food onsite.
Must I really take public transportation to the College Park facility because it was stated that parking was very limited? I went in early April and never had difficulty finding a place to park, but I always arrived when the facility opened. I only had four days, so it seemed obvious to arrive early in order to maximize my time there. There is a cafeteria at the facility which saved time in not having to look elsewhere for a place to eat.
Could I make copies or take pictures? It turned out that either was possible and I discovered that photographs taken on my iphone worked out well. I downloaded each photo to my computer every night and retook any photos which were not clear.
Four days was not a lot of time because it took two days, even with the assistance of my archivist, to find the documents I needed. Records are only pulled 5 times each day, so I was limited by that constraint. I knew that in advance but realized that I would not fully understand the process until I arrived. But despite being overwhelmed and confused by the process, it was worth every nickel spent and all the time involved. I was astonished with what I found.