The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at Washington, D.C., is where it’s at, if you’re a historian (including a family historian) researching American history and families. Many of NARA’s records – the federal census, for example – have been microfilmed or digitized and are available in Family History Centers and other places. Other records – deeds of first transfer of land from the federal government to private ownership – are being put online by government agencies.

Other extremely useful records – most military and pension records, for instance – are still available only from NARA, either at a stiff price ($75 for a Civil War pension file) by mail, or by visiting Washington and copying them yourself.

I have a friend visiting NARA at the end of September. For the cost of photocopies plus a flat fee for his effort, he’s going to pick up several pension files for my ancestors; we won’t know the exact cost until we know how many pages are in the file, but he’ll only make the copies if it’s significantly lower than the $75 NARA fee. He is also going through the deck logs of two ships his father served on during World War II, to copy pages where his father is mentioned – NARA quoted a fee of many hundreds of dollars to copy those extensive deck logs. Another client needs him to skim through the minutes of a specific Senate subcommittee for a specific month, photocopying any discussion of a specific bill, a service NARA would perform for an outrageous fee.

Do you need someone to copy something similar for your research project?

My friend will pick up those copies for you, for the price of photocopying plus a fee to defray his costs of traveling to and staying in Washington. You’ll have to negotiate that fee with him, depending on your project (the time for copying 50 pages of pension file is one thing; copying 1,000 pages of deck logs is another).

Some ground rules:

He is not offering to do creative research: he can’t find your grandmother’s maiden name, or discover what happened to your great uncle who left home and disappeared. He will photocopy military service and pension files if you can clearly identify the man whose records you need (“Pvt. George Bradford Parshall, 1829-1903, 50th N.Y. Engineers, Civil War pension file” for example), or copy a document or file if you can give him a complete file number (you can get that by corresponding with NARA over the NARA website), or copy any other specific record that you can clearly identify.

If you’d like to take advantage of his trip, please email me at Keepapitchinin[at]aol[dot]com and I’ll forward your request to my friend, to negotiate the cost and to exchange any other necessary information.

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