Skip navigation
1 2 Previous Next

Citizen Archivists

19 posts

The National Archives recently launched a new pathway to view and explore our records: the Record Group Explorer. This data visualization allows you to browse NARA’s holdings by Record Group. You can use it to get a sense of the scale and organization of records at the National Archives and to explore what is available online via the National Archives Catalog.


We now invite you to give the Record Group Explorer a try while contributing as a citizen archivist. To celebrate the launch of the Record Group Explorer, we’ve created special missions for each Record Group. Our first set of missions invite you to help tag and transcribe Records from the U.S. Secret Service and the Records of the Government of the District of Columbia. We’ll feature additional Record Groups for future missions.


Each of your contributions to these records will help unlock history and make them easier to find in our Catalog for other users.


Record Group Explorer Missions for Citizen Archivists


Have questions about the Record Group Explorer? Ask questions and contribute to the conversation here on History Hub. We’d also love to hear your input on how this new tool might be beneficial to you in your research, and your ideas about how we could further refine this data visualization for future projects.


The data powering the Record Group Explorer will be updated monthly, so check back to see what we have added and what changes have been made.

As part of our World War I commemoration, we recently invited the public to help transcribe written accounts of World War I soldiers and their first experiences in battles. This series contains remarkable and moving accounts of war through unit histories, station lists, operations reports, messages, and more. 


Of the 2,409 records in the series, 6,652 pages were transcribed by our citizen volunteers. We were especially moved by the descriptions of the battlefield by the soldiers who experienced the war first hand, and wanted to find a way to capture their experiences.


Now that the transcriptions are nearly complete, we are excited to share how this work transcribing has unlocked the stories within these records, and ensured these soldier’s voices are heard.


By performing a "search within" these records in the Catalog, we can now search for events, battlefield conditions, or even emotions that soldiers wrote about within their accounts. For example:



The word “artillery” can be found in 523 records in this series

“About 4 PM we moved forward to canal under heavy artillery and machine gun fire. Were relieved next morning.”

Transcribed by citizen archivist Ndlund


The word “afraid” can be found in 23 records in this series

“I was afraid that we would never reach our objective with one man alive but we only had 4  killed and two wounded all it takes is nerve”

Transcribed by citizen archivist LibrarianDiva


Ready to give it a try? Here’s how to search within a series:


From the Details section of the series description in the Catalog, click on the blue box: “Search within this series”


In the top left search box, remove the wildcard symbols *.* and replace it with the word you would like to search.:



Click on the magnifying glass or press “enter” on your keyboard to start your search. See your results!



Give it a try, and let us know what you find within these records! You could try searching for “trench,” or “Verdun,”  or even “pigeon.” Have you discovered something interesting or unexpected? How else could you use this feature in you research?


There are a few more records in this series that can still be transcribed! Help us finish up these last few records to make these stirring accounts fully accessible.  Get Started Transcribing!

You did it! During last week’s Citizen Archivist Week of Service, more than 430 citizen archivists helped tag and transcribe more than 3,500 pages! Thanks to all of you for helping us reach (and surpass) our goal.


giphy (3).gif


Didn’t get a chance to participate last week? Not to worry. Our Citizen Archivist Dashboard is updated regularly with new missions and featured records to tag and transcribe. Check back often to see what’s new, and keep up the great work!

As Thanksgiving approaches, we have much to be thankful for here at the National Archives. We are especially grateful for the records we hold in trust, and for our Catalog that allows us to share these records with you. We are also thankful for our colleagues, who inspired us with this idea to create a Thanksgiving meal through our records!


As you gather around the table this holiday season, we hope you find inspiration from these historic recipes and photographs found in the National Archives. Enjoy!


Appetizers are a great way to welcome your guests. We recommend Rosalynn Carter’s Plains Special Cheese Ring Recipe. (Trust us, it is delicious!)

6783885 image.jpg


Be sure to offer a toast to your special guests!



Need some inspiration? Try this fancy Manhattan Cocktail, or use this chart to construct the perfect cocktail.

17411415 image.jpg


This turkey is looking good! (And of course you can't forget the gravy.)



Need a side dish? The Republican Congressional Cook Book, ca. 1962 is filled with recipes that would be perfect for your Thanksgiving table. Why don’t you try the Georgia Sweet Potato Souffle?



Save room for dessert! You’re sure to please everyone with this selection of pies.


But if you only have time to make one, we recommend Nancy Reagan’s Pumpkin Pecan Pie recipe.

6731445 image.jpg


Browse more recipes in our Catalog. Have you tried any of these recipes? Let us know how they turned out! Email us at


Did you find this interesting? Discover more like this when you sign up for our Catalog newsletter! Twice a month we feature new and interesting records from the Catalog, research tips, transcription missions, and more.

At the National Archives, we are committed to making the citizen archivist program a great experience for our virtual volunteers. That’s why today we are introducing our new Resources page on our Citizen Archivist Dashboard. Whether you are a new transcriber, or looking for ways to become more involved, our resource page is designed to provide helpful information, tips and tricks, instructional videos and more.

Resources page screenshot.jpg

We created this resource page based on feedback and frequently asked questions we receive from our citizen archivists, and we hope you find it useful.


Check it out and let us know what you think! Do you have ideas for further instructional videos? What else would you like to see on our Dashboard? Let us know at

Looking for some transcription work to do?

We have a group of really easy records to transcribe and we'd love your help.


Help us transcribe index cards of Naturalization Records.  These index cards have just a few lines of text on them and they are addictive - we bet you can't do just one.


New to Transcription for the National Archives? Learn how to get started.

Get started transcribing Indexes to Naturalization Records.

This blog post is an excerpt from the National Archives Catalog Newsletter. If you'd like to receive the newsletter - please subscribe.


Last week we celebrated Public Service Recognition Week with our annual Archivist’s Achievement Awards ceremony. This event provides the opportunity to recognize volunteers and staff of the National Archives for their passion and dedication to serving the mission of the National Archives and the American people. This year, we were proud to present a special award to one of our most dedicated and enthusiastic Citizen Archivists: Alex Smith.



Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero (center), presents Alex Smith (right) with the Citizen Archivist Award at the 2017 Archivist’s Achievement Awards Ceremony. Photo by Jeff Reed.

We first met Alex in 2015, when the Susquehanna University registrar was preparing to retire and looking for a meaningful way to spend his newly found free time. He read about the National Archives’ Citizen Archivist transcription project and discovered a way to volunteer and, according to Smith, do “something that matters for an organization as important as the National Archives.”

In the first eighteen months of his virtual volunteer work, Mr. Smith made a remarkable 11,100+ transcription contributions to the National Archives Catalog. Several times a week he logs into the Catalog and searches for his next record to transcribe. He often employs a serendipitous method to find the next record. For example, while searching for and transcribing telegrams, he reads about prohibition agents that leads him to search for prohibition. He’s inspired by the books he reads in his leisure – searching for public figures in the catalog such as Sherman Adams, John Bricker, Meade Alcorn, and Ann Whitman.

Alex Smith is not only a diligent citizen archivist and transcriber, he also is an evangelist and cheerleader for records in the National Archives, sharing the stories he’s found with friends. He is full of excitement when he discovers the intriguing, heroic and even the mundane within our records – he finds “happy surprises” within routine and seemingly dry records. Always a storyteller, he recounts what he has discovered while transcribing and has inspired others to become citizen archivists as well.

We were thrilled to welcome Alex to the National Archives and present him with this year’s Citizen Archivist award. We even got to spend some time showing him around the National Archives at College Park and talking about our favorite records.

National Archives Catalog Community Managers Suzanne Isaacs (left) and Meredith Doviak (right) with Alex Smith.  Mr. Smith is holding a 19th century example of a wooden box used for the storage of records.


Alex shared, “If it weren't for the Archives, I'd be having a much duller time, so I really am grateful for the imaginative ways you have allowed us civilians to take part in your extraordinary work.”

We consider ourselves the lucky ones to have such dedicated volunteers. Will you join us as a Citizen Archivist?

Research at the National Archives


Tagging in the National Archives Online Catalog

Did you know that, as a fellow researcher, you can help enrich our catalog by tagging and adding transcriptions to make the National Archives records more easily found online? By adding keywords, terms, and labels to a record, you will help to make the contents of NARA’s online catalog richer and more discoverable. More information tagged to historical documents, electronic records, photographs, and other records helps to makes them easier to find for the next person who may need the information.



What’s a good tag? Any keywords or labels that are meaningful to you, as well as names you find in the record. Simply type what you see. You can say whatever you wish to say in a tag if it conforms with NARA's Tagging Policy.

To get started with your valuable contributions, create a user name and password in the National Archives Catalog and login to the system.  

You can start a tagging mission by adding tag details and features in selected categories of photographs. Or create your own tagging mission task by doing a keyword search in the catalog for your favorite topics. For example, typing the keyword "Abraham Lincoln” and selecting "President Abraham Lincoln's Pardon of Charles Boland" from the generated list, will open the historical document. It also shows that this document has some blue ribbons tags as an indication of user tagging contributions to this document. You can check their tags, add more tags to the same document, or search and select another record that has not been tagged before. You can review some Tagging Tips as well as Tagging NARA Catalog Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).



For additional information about tagging records see our National Archives Catalog newsletter.


Tagging in Flickr

You can also help tag National Archives images in Flickr. With every tag you add to the image, you help the next person discover that record/image.


Explore our nation's past with our Archives' Photostream on the Flickr Commons. Please share your knowledge, insights, and experience by adding tags, notes, and comments. We also encourage you to clarify and correct information in our descriptions through your comments. To get started, simply create an account in Flickr.


Any tagging method you select to contribute will help make the records of the National Archives more discoverable, accessible, and understandable. All contributions will be greatly valued.

April 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. As we commemorate this event, we're asking for help from our Citizen Archivists to make records from World War I more discoverable.


We're creating special tagging and transcription missions and challenges using World War I content. Throughout the two year commemoration, we’ll be rotating missions to focus on different aspects of World War I both on the battlefield and on the homefront.  We hope you’ll join us in this special project.

WWI missions 2.jpg


We’ve also launched a World War I research portal with the goal of creating a central space for all National Archives resources and content related to World War I for use by researchers, students and educators, and those curious about the War. Here you will find World War I records organized by subject and topic area. Throughout the portal you can find links to more information such as articles, blog posts, genealogy resources, and online exhibits. Read more about our our WWI portal in our newsletter.


With more than 110,000 newly digitized photographs, you’re sure to find something you’ve never seen before! Have you found a unique photo or an interesting record? Please share with us! Email us at

We need your help digitizing the records of the National Archives!

At the National Archives Building, in Washington, DC, the public can scan our archival records in the Innovation Hub Scanning Room. Currently, the Scanning Room services are only available at our Washington, DC facility and only for records that are located within the building. 



The Innovation Hub Scanning Room, which opened in July 2015, provides a space for the public to scan select records in our holdings. Whether you are new to scanning or have years of experience, our staff provides one-on-one instruction on handling historical records and using our flatbed scanners. When you finish scanning your records in the Hub, you receive digital copies of your scans, free of charge. We encourage you to bring your own personal USB/flash drive to save the images. Your scans will be uploaded into the National Archives Catalog, where anyone can view them without going through a paywall.



Currently, you can scan four series of records in the Hub: compiled military service records, pension application files, bounty land warrant applications, and carded medical records. You can only scan these files if they are not already online through one of the National Archives’ partners, such as Ancestry or Fold3. If you decide to scan, we ask that you commit to scanning a complete file. Compiled military service records, bounty land warrant applications, and carded medical records are fairly small and can take between 30 minutes and an hour to complete. Pension files can include hundreds of pages and take anywhere from an hour to several days to finish.

While you are waiting for your records to arrive in the Hub, or if you are just visiting and would like to contribute to our digitization efforts, we have a “Box of the Month” available for you to scan. Currently, we are scanning compiled military service records from the War of 1812.

If you would like to scan other series of records, you will need advance approval to ensure that these records are in good condition for scanning on flatbed scanners. Contact to learn more.



We will give you credit by name for your image contributions in the National Archives Catalog, or you can choose to remain anonymous. You can view the records that have already been scanned in the Hub by visiting our Catalog, at

Once your records are available on our catalog, you can register to become a Citizen Archivist and tag and transcribe your scans. More information about this project can be found at our Citizen Archivist Dashboard.



We hope you will come visit us at the Innovation Hub Scanning Room soon!

The Innovation Hub Scanning Room is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Godspeed John Glenn

Posted by sisaacs Expert Dec 9, 2016

If you are like me, you've been thinking a lot about John Glenn after hearing about his passing.  My job here at the National Archives is Community Manager for the National Archives Catalog, so the first thing I did was search the catalog for records about Glenn.


This has always been my favorite photo, Photograph of Astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr. in His Mark IV Pressure Suit, 1/23/1962.  Look closely and you can see the NASA technicians in the reflections in his suit.


If you love transcribing records - we have an Exploring Space transcription mission going on right now, and it includes records about John Glenn.  Help us unlock history!  How about transcribing this booklet about John Glenn and Friendship 7?


Are you new to transcribing records from the National Archives?  Learn How to Get Started.

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we invite you to tag selected records and photographs in the National Archives Catalog related to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.


Pearl Harbor 75 tagging mission.jpg


The records in this mission include photographs of the attack, the aftermath, the USS Arizona memorial, and ceremonies. Tagging details found in the photographs such as names, locations, types or names of planes and ships, or other details not found in the title or caption, will help make this content more discoverable in the Catalog.


New to Tagging? Learn how to get started. You can register for an account in the National Archives Catalog and begin tagging right away.


Looking for more? Browse more tagging missions from the National Archives. Select a mission that interests you and get tagging.


Learn more about Pearl Harbor and the 75th Anniversary from the National Archives.

Help us transcribe the millions of digitized pages of records in the National Archives Catalog. Transcription helps us improve search results and increase accessibility to our historical records.

New to transcribing? Our newly designed Transcription Tips webpage shows you how to get started with transcription, and includes some helpful examples of documents so you can see transcription in action.

transcription tips screenshot.jpg

Teachers can download and print a PDF version for use in their classrooms.

By transcribing, you are helping unlock history and discover hidden details of records and the stories they contain.

Check out our transcription missions! We’ve curated groups of records on particular subjects to help you get started transcribing. Take a look at our missions page to start transcribing documents related to exploring space, African American history, and more! If this is your first time participating - read the Transcription Tips and begin with the getting started instructions.

Happy transcribing!

On September 24, 2016, the Smithsonian celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. To mark the event, the National Archives is having a transcription challenge for records pertaining to African-American history in its catalog.


So why should this matter to you?


African-American history is sometimes presented in linear terms. It begins with the horrors of slavery, its abolition at the end of the Civil War, and it culminates with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The reality, of course, is much more complicated, and leaves a more extensive paper trail than you may have imagined. Consider the petitions calling for the abolition of slavery sent to individual state government prior to the 13th Amendment; the reports compiled on the education and welfare of African-American students before and after Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka went before the Supreme Court; and the amount of legislative records that went into the creation of laws such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


History is in the details, and is not just a series of major events. By transcribing and tagging the documents in the National Archives’ Catalog, you are making primary sources accessible for everyone. You (yes, you!) are helping to fill in the gaps, and piece-by-piece and detail-by-detail uncover the long lost stories of the past for the present and future.


So your (transcription) mission, should you choose to accept it, is to:


First, get instructions on how to get started as a volunteer transcriber.


Once you’re all set up, browse through the records in the mission. If you find something that peaks your interest, click on it and begin transcribing and tagging. When you’re done, take a look at NARA’s other transcription missions.

Have questions or need clarification? Comment below. Happy typing!


Here's your chance to help de-code secret telegrams sent during the Civil War.


With support from the NHPRC, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens has launched of an innovative crowdsourcing project to transcribe and decipher a collection of nearly 16,000 Civil War telegrams between Abraham Lincoln, his Cabinet, and officers of the Union Army. Roughly one-third of the messages were written in code.


The “Decoding the Civil War” project is a partnership among Zooniverse (the largest online platform for collaborative volunteer research), North Carolina State University’s Digital History and Pedagogy Project, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.


The Huntington acquired the exceptionally rare collection of telegrams in 2012, composed of a nearly complete archive of Thomas T. Eckert, the head of the military telegraph office of the War Department under Lincoln. The archive was thought to have been destroyed after the war and includes crucial correspondence that has never been published. Among the materials are 35 manuscript ledger books of telegrams sent and received by the War Department, including more than 100 communiques from Lincoln himself. Also included are top-secret cipher books revealing the complex coding system used to encrypt and decipher messages. The Confederate Army never cracked the Union Army’s code.


But you can help by joining in at…/zoonive…/decoding-the-civil-war. They are looking for 75,000 volunteers.