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In an archive you find unpublished materials, manuscripts, and loose papers. These unique items are found only in one repository. Often times these collections are not fully indexed however there is usually a finding aid to help you locate material. Most of the collections must be handled with cotton gloves to protect them from natural acidic oils on hands which can deteriorate paper. These items are never loaned. If your write to the staff of an archival collection, they may be able to do some searching for you in the collection. You may have to make a trip to the facility to view the material unless it has been microfilmed. Microfilmed collections can sometimes be borrowed on Interlibrary Loan.

Just as with libraries, there are national, regional, state, academic, and local archives. Genealogists have always been the heaviest users of the material in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. If you are not able to travel to Washington, access to records can usually be arranged for a fee by filling out a form and sending it to NARA. Many items in the National Archives have been microfilmed and can be borrowed through libraries and Family History Centers. Some but not all of this material has been indexed.

The Library of Congress has published a multi-volume set of books called the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) which lists thousands of unique items located throughout the United States. NUCMUC is available at large public, state, and university libraries.

National, regional, and state levels archives centers receive many requests per day. When submitting a request you may have to wait many weeks before receiving an answer.

Help Me!   Where is the nearest regional archive to my home?

Help Me!   Find manuscript collections of slave and plantation records.

Help Me!  Find a passport record for my ancestor.

Help Me!  Find Revolutionary War records for my ancestor.

Help Me!  Is there an unpublished collection of papers for my family?

To ask these or similar questions, click on Help Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.