Archival Research Catalog (ARC)

ARC Guide for Genealogists and Family Historians

Immigrants on a Ferry Boat Near Ellis Island, ARC ID 594479.

For more information on genealogical sources at the National Archives, please visit NARA's gateway for genealogists/family historians and the Start your Genealogy Research page.

What Is in the Archival Research Catalog?

ARC vs. Online Genealogy Databases

  • ARC is keyword searchable like many genealogy databases.

  • You can narrow ARC searches with filters.

  • ARC allows you to search for records in all NARA facilities – not just selected databases.

  • The current focus is on breadth of NARA's holdings (at the series level) and not individual records. (See the ARC Data Model Example for more explanation about series.)

  • Most series in ARC are not indexed by individual names.

The Archival Research Catalog (ARC) is the online catalog of NARA's nationwide holdings in the Washington, DC, area; Regional Archives; and Presidential Libraries. ARC is a work in progress; currently over 63% of our records are described in ARC at the series level.

ARC contains many descriptions of records of interest to genealogists and family historians, including:

  • applications for enrollment in Native American tribes
  • court records
  • fugitive slave cases
  • land records
  • military personnel records
  • naturalization records

See more general information about what is in ARC.

ARC Data Model Example: District Court Records

  • All district court records held by the National Archives are in the same record group
    • Records of District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21)

  • Within that record group are series of records
    • Admiralty Case Files, 1790 - 1966
    • Civil Case Files, 1938 - 1967
    • Criminal Case Files, 1791 - 1970

  • Within the series you have file units (one for each court case)
    • United States versus Henry Sims, #68 August Session 1851, 10/24/1851
    • United States versus Samuel Williams etal., #159 August Session 1851

  • Within the file units you have individual documents (items)
    • Indictment of Samuel Williams
    • Lists of Witnesses and the Jury

Read more about the ARC Data Model.

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How Do I Search in ARC?

The Archival Research Catalog (ARC) contains descriptions of records held by the National Archives. Researchers can conduct keyword searches and filtered searches in ARC. Keep in mind that ARC keyword searching is very specific. For example, if you search on the word "veteran," you may not find search results that only include the word "veterans," so we encourage you to use variations of a word with the word "OR" between them (for example: veteran OR veterans).

To perform a simple keyword search:

  1. Go to
  2. Enter [some keywords of your choice] in the Keywords box in the center of the page. For example: “bounty land”
  3. Press the Search button.
  4. When hits are returned for your search, view the full result of your hit by selecting the Title link.

Tips for Searching for an Individual's Name

  • Search on the person's full name in first name-last name order.

  • Search on the surname only. The records might only include a first initial or a variant spelling of the first name.

  • Search on variant spellings of the surname, for example: Luchetti OR Lucetti.

  • Search on variant spellings of the first name, including "Americanized" versions, for example: Joseph Maggio OR Guiseppe Maggio.

  • Keep in mind that ARC does not contain descriptions for all file units and items that include individuals' names. However, the National Archives still might have records about your ancestors.

See more Tips for Searching for People by Name in ARC.

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Cash Land Entry 23785 ... of Benjamin Wingo, 1857, ARC ID 300283

Tips for Searching by Topics Related to Genealogy and Family History in ARC

One of the best ways to identify records of interest in ARC is by topic. If you find a series or file unit in ARC that may contain records about your ancestor, contact the staff at that unit. The contact information appears in the "Location" field of the ARC description.

Suggested Keywords

As a starting point, click on the links in the "View ARC Descriptions" column below. The links open a new browser window with ARC Search Results. See Tips for ARC Search Links for additional information.

Topics View ARC Descriptions
African Americans
Court Records
Japanese Americans
Native Americans

Follow the Clues!

The family history research you already compiled could contain valuable clues. Use these clues to identify National Archives records that would be useful to your research and go beyond the most common genealogical sources.

Three examples:

Clue: A significant decrease in income appears when you compare your ancestor's net worth between the 1860 Census and 1870 Census.
Records Worth Checking: Bankruptcy court records might contain a file on your ancestor. The Bankruptcy Act of 1867 allowed greater numbers of people to file for voluntary bankruptcy. Search in ARC for bankruptcy AND [state where you ancestor lived at the time].

Clue: You find a passenger list with your ancestor's name on it, and there is a Board of Special Inquiry stamp.
Records Worth Checking: The records of an Immigration and Naturalization Service inquiry might exist for your ancestor. Records related to deportation are also a possibility. Search in ARC for immigration AND "special inquiry".

Clue: Your ancestor was tried for a crime.
Records Worth Checking: A criminal case file might exist for the U.S. District Court in the state where your ancestor committed the crime. If your ancestor served a sentence in a Federal prison, there might be an inmate case file in the records of that Federal prison. Search in ARC for "criminal case" OR inmate.

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Case Studies: Access to Archival Databases (AAD) and the Archival Research Catalog (ARC)

A National Archives presentation at the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference (May 13, 2009) features cases studies of genealogy research on two people using the National Archives' Access to Archival Databases (AAD) and the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) in conjunction with each other and on-site research in NARA research rooms.

Another ARC presentation from the NGS conference provides a general overview and demonstration of ARC for genealogsits.

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Are There Any Digital Copies of Documents?

Order records online Now you can order many records online (including census pages, court records, naturalization records, military service and pension records, and World War I draft registration cards).

Yes, ARC does contain digital copies of selected documents. We have over 150,000 digital copies in ARC, and that number will continue to grow although it is far from all the documents held by the National Archives.
Read more about: Why aren't all Federal Archived Records Online?

Digital Copies: Tips for Browsing by Last Name

Digital copies of selected documents that contain individuals' names are available in ARC. For many of those scanned documents, the names are not keyword searchable in ARC. Instead, you need to browse the digital copy of the list by last name. The links below open a new browser window with ARC Search Results. See Tips for ARC Search Links for additional information.


Chun Jan Yut at 22 years of age. Photograph from Immigration Service form 430, "Application of American-born Chinese for Preinvestigation of Status," filed upon departure from San Francisco for a trip abroad, 1914, ARC ID 296486

Links to More ARC Digital Copies Search Hints for Genealogical Sources

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