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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.