Researching Foreign Affairs Records, Part II: Getting Started

By David Langbart

This is the second post in a four-part series about conducting research in the records of agencies specifically responsible for U.S. foreign relations.  It is derived from information on the NARA web pages devoted to that topic.  The recommendations herein are applicable to other records, too. Please visit Part I, Part III, and Part IV.

National Archives Reference Staff are committed to doing their best to get you to the records that you want to see.  It is just as frustrating for NARA staff not to be able to help you as it is for you not to see the records you want.  They need your help, however, in order to best assist you.

While the reference staff cannot undertake your research for you, they can do some preliminary work in order to identify the file categories in the Department of State’s (or other agency’s) central files likely to contain documentation of interest or locate other series with pertinent records.  Doing that work takes time, however.  It cannot be done effectively while you are waiting in the Research Room.

To assist you, the National Archives has developed this FAQ on how to make your research visit to the National Archives more successful.

As noted in the FAQ, while writing to the National Archives before visiting is not required, communicating with the Reference Staff at the National Archives before you visit is likely to improve the results of your research experience.  And remember to do so at least 3-4 weeks before a planned visit to allow enough time for NARA staff to respond.  While contacting the National Archives before a visit is especially useful in the following instances, it can also help in other circumstances too:

  • (1) if the records are dated from the 1960s and later
  • (2) if you are dealing with agencies involved with foreign affairs, intelligence, and law enforcement
  • (3) if you do not have precise file number citations to the files of various agencies or National Archives record group and entry numbers
  • (4) or if you are unsure that records exist.

Reference staff is available in the Archives II Research Room from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, except government holidays.  For those wanting a more in-depth explanation of the records or with difficult or advanced research projects, a specialist in foreign affairs records is available for consultation.  The specialist is in the Archives II Textual Research Room every Tuesday morning from 9AM to 10AM and can answer questions about the organization and content of the records and help you plan a research strategy.

The foreign affairs web pages are here.

Tomorrow: Research Hints