The U.S. government has entrusted to the National Archives the responsibility of record keeping for any individual having any sort of transaction with the Federal government. If you're considering researching the national archives then you should reflect on when your ancestor may have come into contact with the Federal government, and search through those specific datasets. The types of data available from the national archives is as follows: census, passenger arrival (immigration), naturalization, land, and military records. Also, there are records pertaining to the following groups of people: Native, African, Japanese, Chinese, and Hispanic Americans.
The National Archives does have some data online, but for the most part, their setup is antiquated, and their data is available online elsewhere, including some of it here at AccessGenealogy in a searchable format. NARA is currently in partnerships with Footnote and Ancestry for both companies to scan the NARA images and place them online in a searchable format. Unfortunately, in both cases, the data will cost you to gain access, unlike the free access you can find at one of the regional centers below. FamilySearch is also placing some data online, which is available for free, but so far, I can only find the census material, and that is presently limited to a few decades.
In addition to the National Archives located in Washington DC, there are 15 more regional archive centers which are each devoted to specific states. These archives hold records specific to their region, for instance, shipping manifests for ports which are located in the region they cover. Before visiting the regional archives in your vicinity, we suggest you thoroughly research what material is available.
NARA Regional Centers
- North East Region - Boston, MA (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, and VT)
- North East Region - Pittsfield, MA (no original records, only microfilms related to genealogy)
- North East Region - NYC, NY (NY, NJ, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands)
- Mid Atlantic Region - Philadelphia, PA (DE, MD, PA, VA, and WV)
- Southeast Region - Morrow, GA (AL, FL, GA, KY, MI, NC, SC, TN)
- Great Lakes Region - Chicago, IL (IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, and WI)
- Central Plains Region - Kansas City, MO (IO, KS, MO, and NE)
- Central Plains Region - Lee's Summit, MO (NY, NJ, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands)
- Southwest Region - Fort Worth, TX (AR, LA, NM, OK, and TX)
- Rocky Mountain Region - Denver, CO (CO, MT, ND, SD, UT, and WY)
- Pacific Region - Laguna Niguel, CA (AZ, southern CA, and Clark County, NV)
- Pacific Region - San Francisco, CA (CA except southern CA, HI, NV except Clark County, American Samoa, and Guam)
- Pacific Alaska Region - Seattle, WA (ID, OR, and WA)
- Pacific Alaska Region - Anchorage, AK (AK)
State and Local Archives Directory