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2021

Photograph of Researcher in the Central Search Room of the National Archives Building

Photograph of Researcher in the Central Search Room of the National Archives Building. 64-PR-20-1, NAID: 74228254

 

In this edition of Visual Cues and Clues, let’s step outside the box and explore photographs from a different angle. Instead of looking at what’s in the photograph, let’s explore what’s on the photograph. Markings, emblems, and logos sometimes lend a wealth of information that may not be identified through what is depicted in the image. Moreover, sometimes you can track down the archival institution that houses a photo you found online or in a book by simply examining what markings you can find on it.

 

Emblems, logos, and a variety of markings can take any shape or form. They can be an agency’s logo to a specific photography unit’s emblems. Even hand written information can serve as helpful clues. The information gleaned from what can be found on the photo can be used to locate the archival location of the image as well as understand the context around when it was taken.

 

If you’re looking for information on the photo, typically it will be marked in the corners or along the sides of the image. This is so it does not take away from the overall photo. Let’s take a look at some photographs within the holdings of the Still Picture Branch that have information on the photo and see what we can learn!

 

World War II Solider Reading with Two Women

Dachen with Peter Pantelone and Melle Paule Magure holding a conversation with the aid of a GI French Book. 111-SC-191373, NAID: 100310370

 

WHAT DO WE SEE ON THIS PHOTOGRAPH?

1. A logo in the bottom left corner that reads “Signal Corps, US Army.”

 

The United States Army Signal Corps have long been the units responsible for photographing military activities, especially during wartime. In this photograph from World War II, you can see the Signal Corps emblem in the bottom left corner of the photograph. While not every single Signal Corps photograph includes the emblem, this marking is a great way to identify the image and where it may be located. Since the Signal Corps was a US Government organization, it is no surprise their photographs are found within the holdings of the Still Picture Branch at the National Archives.

 

Close up of 111-SC-191373. Text reads: ETO-HQ-44-7086

 

 

2. A handwritten number along the bottom that reads “ETO-HQ-44-7086."

 

While not the most straightforward marking to the casual viewer, oftentimes numbers written on a photo may indicate the photo’s identifier number. Each identifier number is different depending on where they originated and who used them, but would typically be used to locate the photograph amongst a large collection of photos. In this case, this number–ETO-HQ-44-7086–is a field number used by the Signal Corps. The Signal Corps would assign a photograph a field number shortly after taking the image, then when it was processed by the Army, it would be assigned an official Signal Corps–or SC–number. Unfortunately, there is no way to locate photographs by the field number today, and we only use the official SC number in the Still Picture Branch.

 

 

Administrative Structures - Montana

Administrative Structures – Montana. 95-GP-5322-210950, NAID: 7047496

 

 

WHAT DO WE SEE ON THIS PHOTOGRAPH?

Close up of 95-GP-5322-210950. Text reads: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.

 

Luckily, this photograph includes a full caption in the top right corner that gives us context as to what is depicted. The biggest clue, however, comes from the stamp along the left side that reads “U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.” While we may not always get as lucky, this stamp easily indicates the photograph is likely found within the records of the Forest Service. Because the Forest Service is a Government agency, their permanent photographic records are typically found within the holdings of the Still Picture Branch.

 

 

Photograph of Ambulances Lined Up Awaiting the Arrival of the USS Tranquility (AH-14)

Photograph of Ambulances Lined Up Awaiting the Arrival of the USS Tranquility (AH-14) 80-GK-5978, NAID: 148728734.

This photograph has been digitally altered to improve the visibility of the writing along the side.

 

WHAT DO WE SEE ON THIS PHOTOGRAPH?

 

There are four distinct features written along the edges of this image that lend a lot of context to the photograph. They include:

 

Close up of anchor on 80-GK-5978.

 

1. In the top right corner we can spot a small anchor. This could mean the photograph is related to the sea.

 

Close up of 80-GK-5978. Text reads: Official US Navy.

 

2. While we cannot decipher the meaning of the handwritten text that reads: “Mull 6,” we can see “Official US Navy” written along the bottom right corner. This text, paired with the anchor, gives us the largest clue that this photograph was taken by the US Navy, whose records are usually found in the Still Picture Branch.

 

Close up of 80-GK-5978. Text reads: Ansco Safety Film.

3. Now that we understand who created this photograph, we can learn how they created this photograph by noting the text written along the left side. The text reads, “Ansco Safety Film,” which is the type of film used to create this image. Since we know it is film, we can tell this is a color transparency as opposed to a photographic print.

 

Close up of notches on 80-GK-5978.

 

4. The last clue on the photograph are the small notches in the left corner. Notches in film were used to identify the type of film and the date of its manufacturer. While it may be difficult to decipher the notches today, these markings further reinforces our idea that this is a color transparency.

 

 

"Become a nurse - Your country needs you"

“Become a nurse – Your country needs you” 44-PA-135, NAID: 513583

 

WHAT DO WE SEE ON THIS POSTER?

 

After examining this poster, the two places to look for information are the top and bottom...

Close up of 44-PA-135. Text reads: Federal Security Agency, U.S. Public Health Service.

 

At the top…We see a marking that reads “Federal Security Agency, U.S. Public Health Service.” While the nurse depicted in the poster illustrates the importance of health, there is no doubt this poster originated from the US Public Health Service.

 

 

Close up of 44-PA-135. Text reads: OWI Poster No. 22. Additional copies may be obtained upon request from the Division of Public Inquiries, Office of War Information, Washington, D.C.

 

Close up of 44-PA-135. Text reads: U.S. Government Printing Office: 1942-O-498483.

 

At the bottom… We read “OWI Poster No. 22. Additional copies may be obtained upon request from the Division of Public Inquiries, Office of War Information, Washington, D.C… U.S. Government Printing Office: 1942-O-498483.” While not as obvious, this indicates the poster was created as part of the war effort because it originated from the Office of War Information. Moreover, the poster was published by the Government Printing Office, which means the Government directly influenced the dissemination of this poster, and its official record copy can be found in the holdings of the Still Picture Branch.

 

 

Official Flag Raising on Iwo Jima

Official Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, 127-GW-319-113127, NAID: 175539289

This photograph has been cropped from its original mount. To view the full mount with caption, please visit our online catalog.

 

WHAT DO WE SEE ON THIS PHOTOGRAPH?

 

After looking at this photograph, we spot a long string of information along the left side that reads: “T.Sgt. J.A. Mundell. 21st Marines. 3d Mar. Div.”

 

Close up of 127-GW-319-113127. Text reads: T.Sgt. J.A. Mundell. 21st Marines. 3d Mar. Div.

 

Without even looking at the caption, we now know the photographer of this photo is Technical Sergeant J.A. Mundell. Mundell was part of the 21st Marine Regiment, which is part of the 3rd Marine Division. If we wanted to research further, we could follow the history of the 21st Marine Regiment and learn more about T.Sgt. Mundell, as well as view other official Marine Corps photographs found in the holdings of the Still Picture Branch.

 

 

 

The photographs included in this post have no known copyright restrictions. If you have any questions about the images in this post or the holdings of the Still Picture Branch, please contact us at stillpix@nara.gov.

 

PUBLICATION OF PHOTOGRAPHS FURNISHED BY THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES STILL PICTURE BRANCH-RRSS

 

Generally, copies of photographic records held by the National Archives may be published without special permission or additional fees. The National Archives does not grant exclusive or non-exclusive publication privileges. Copies of Federal records, as part of the public domain, are equally available to all. A small percentage of photographs in our holdings are or may be subject to copyright restrictions. The National Archives does not confirm the copyright status of photographs but will provide any information known about said status. It is the user’s responsibility to obtain all necessary clearances. Any use of these items is made at the researcher’s or purchaser’s own risk.

 

Proper credit lines are encouraged in the interest of good documentation. They also help inform the public about government photographic resources that are available.

 

*Because so many of our requests for information cite credits and captions that appear in published works, the inclusion of a photo number in hard copy and electronic publications is of great assistance to both us and the public.

 

Examples of preferred credit lines are as follows:

 

  • National Archives photo no. 210-G-C241
  • Credit National Archives (photo no. 83-G-41368)
  • Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 83-G-41430
  • National Archives (210-G-A14)

If using a large number of our images, the National Archives will appreciate receiving copies of publications that contain our photographs. Such copies can be sent to the Still Picture Branch or the Library, National Archives and Records Administration.

 

You can also find this blog post on the Unwritten Record.

 

For more posts in the Visual Cues and Clues series see our post titled "Visual Cues and Clues: Picking the Right Record Group for Still Pictures."

Subject Matter Expert (SME) - Civil Rights Blog #3
A Guide for Researchers Accessing Records of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Ray Bottorff Jr

 

On September 9, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (Public Law 85-315). While historians have laid bare the law’s numerous weaknesses, it did result, in its section 101, in the creation of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR).

 

Photograph of President Dwight D. Eisenhower Signing the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (H.R. 6127) in His Office at the Naval Base in Newport, Rhode Island” September 9, 1957, from the series Photographs of Official Activities of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953 - 1961.
National Archives Identification Number (NAID): 7865612.

 

According to the mission of the USCCR, it is, “...established as an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding federal agency, our mission is to inform the development of national civil rights policy and enhance enforcement of federal civil rights laws. We pursue this mission by studying alleged deprivations of voting rights and alleged discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice. We play a vital role in advancing civil rights through objective and comprehensive investigation, research, and analysis on issues of fundamental concern to the federal government and the public.”

 

During its history, the USCCR’s reports to Congress and the American people served as a foundation for the Civil Rights Act of 1960, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (which included the Indian Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The USCCR has the distinction of being the first Federal government agency to investigate in earnest Civil Rights matters concerning Native Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Hawaiians, and issues involving gender biases.

 

Starting in the 1980s, the activities of the Commission became mired in political partisanship, with some appointees openly questioning the need for the USCCR. Nevertheless, the Commission was reauthorized in 1994 with the Civil Rights Commission Amendments Act. It remains active, conducting investigations, hearings, and issues reports to Congress and the American public.

 

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has had a significant impact on civil rights in the United States. However, their records at the National Archives (under Record Group 453) do not get the same level of scrutiny as compared to the records related to Civil Rights in the Department of Justice (Record Group 60), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Record Group 65), the U.S. Supreme Court (Record Group 267), U.S. Court of Appeals (Record Group 276), the District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21), the U.S. Senate (Record Group 46), and the U.S. House of Representatives (Record Group 233).

 


Pamphlet, The Commission on Civil Rights,” U. S. Government Printing Office, 1958, from the series President (1953-1961: Eisenhower). 1953 - 1961.
National Archives Identification Number (NAID): 12167074.


Part of the reason that RG 453 receives less attention has to do with the restrictions originally placed on many of the records. When accessioned by the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) - and later when the organization became known as the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) - two primary restrictions were placed on nearly all records in RG 453. One of these restrictions may require a person to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to view them.

The first is restriction 5 USC 552 (b) (6) - Personal Information, which pertains to records containing the personal information (like addresses and other contact information) of individuals that the Commission talked to. Although decades have passed since the records were created (rendering some of the restrictions regarding Personally Identifiable Information (PII) no longer applicable), it may be possible that notations of restrictions remain on the records and their containers. Hence, the records are required to undergo a screening process by National Archives staff in order to make any releasable information available to the public.

 

The second restriction that applies to some of the Commission’s records is 5 USC 552 (b) (3) - Statute: 42 USC Ch.20A, Sec. 1975a. Per this restriction, all proceedings from Executive Session Commission meetings are confidential and not available to the public. It is possible that Executive Session Commission meeting records are sometimes intermingled with other records that are usually open to the public. Hence, all require screening by NARA personnel for this restriction to ensure that information is properly released.

 

Another reason for the underutilization of USCCR records may pertain to the need for information from paper-based finding aids to be added to the National Archives Online Catalog. For example, until recently a search of RG 453 in the Catalog provided basic information only. Further details were not available. However, the closure of NARA research rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21 provided staff an opportunity to transcribe thousands of paper-only finding aids for the online catalog. This includes the finding aids for Record Group 453, Records of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Over the coming months, most of this record group’s file lists will be available to search in NARA’s Online Catalog.

 

Before you contact the National Archives, it is first recommended that you research the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights website. USCCR’s website has two important links, the first of which is their Archives tab. Under this link are press releases dating back to 2010 under “Highlights'', “Commission News”, “State Advisory Committees (SAC) News”, and “Other”.

 

The second tab of interest is the one for Historical Publications, which forwards you to the Thurgood Marshall Law Library of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law page dedicated to the Historical Publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. These publications are the culmination of the Commission's work and are the reports that were presented to Congress and the American public to act upon. These reports are a great place to begin your research into the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

 

Once you have searched potential areas of interest and are ready to view original documents related to the Commission reports, your next stop is the National Archives Catalog. You may use a basic search or advanced search to parse through Record Group 453 and review series descriptions and/or individual file lists.

 

The USCCR did not operate in a vacuum, of course, and it regularly interacted with other Federal agencies. Departments that worked with the Commission included the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Housing, Educations, and Welfare (HEW) (Record Group 235), and later the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (Record Group 207), among others. Therefore, searching the Catalog under those record groups and others may lead you to additional records of interest.

The Commission also interacted with every Presidential Administration since its founding. During your research, you will find some records that are only available at Presidential libraries. Therefore, your research on these records will begin at NARA’s Research Presidential Materials web page.

The third page of the Memorandum for the President from the Attorney General on civil rights legislation, 23 October 1963 from the series Papers of John F. Kennedy: Presidential Papers: President's Office Files, 1/20/1961 - 11/22/1963. Attorney General Robert Kennedy recommends to President John F. Kennedy to follow the Republican Party's suggestion to make the Commission permanent.
National Archives Identification Number: 193808.

 

USCCR reports heavily influenced congressional legislation. Consequently, the records of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives may provide a source of Commission documents and correspondence. The Center for Legislative Archives holds the historically valuable records of the U.S. Congress, including official committee records. To research congressional records and legislative history, start with the Center’s online search catalog or contact them directly at legislative.archives@nara.gov.

 

You may review records of general interest within RG 453. Publications, 1975 - 1996 (NAID 1112317) includes a variety of publications created both by the Commission and outside groups. Publications, Reports and Studies, 1973 - 1976 (NAID 1077448) is similar to NAID 1112317, but these records were maintained by the Chairman of the Commission on Civil Rights, Arthur S. Flemming. Lastly, Records Relating to Surveys and Studies, 1958 - 1962 (NAID 1142771) contains reports and other studies from the earliest days of the Commission.

 

Once you have determined the USCCR records you wish to review, you will need to visit the National Archives facilities in Metro-Washington DC. The Center for Legislative Archives is located at the National Archives building in Washington, DC. Records for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights are found in the National Archives at College Park, MD. Please note: Due to COVID-19 facility closures and evolving arrangements pertaining to research, you should call or correspond with staff at each facility before visiting to be briefed on the status of current research and arrangements.

When you first arrive at the National Archives you are required to go through the process of obtaining a Researcher’s Card. You will watch a presentation which covers basic rules of how to properly handle records. Handling the records properly is important to help ensure that they survive over time and can be used by future researchers.

 

National Archives facilities located across the country may have different procedures for accessing certain records. Consult each facility's NARA web page for details on hours of operation and procedures for researching their records.

Records with restrictions that have not been screened will be reviewed by the National Archives archival staff. Please note congressional records are made available according to the access policies set by the creator of the records -- most House records open when they are 30 years old and most Senate records open when they are 20 years old.

 

A view of the second-floor research room at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

 

You may use non-flash photography or your own scanner (provided it does not have a document feeder) to digitize documents. Photocopy machines are also available for use. The machines provide the options to scan your documents onto a thumb drive or print out paper hardcopies. Whatever method you use, copying costs 25 cents per page.

Once you have finished conducting your research, carefully return the materials to the Archives staff. Before you leave, all papers must be reviewed by NARA staff to ensure that record materials did not get inadvertently mixed in with the copies and dislocated from the files. Although your first day going through USCCR documents has ended, you are welcome to revisit the National Archives for further research.

 

This guide for USCCR records may pertain to other records at the National Archives. Hopefully, this examination of the underutilized records of the Commission encourages further examination, review, and research. The United States Commission on Civil Rights stands as an important Federal authority in the development of civil rights in the United States. Come and explore the history it helped to create at the National Archives.

 

A United States Commission on Civil Rights hearing, “Federal Me Too: Examining Sexual Harassment in Federal Workplaces,” May 2019 which included a briefing from U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier.
Photograph from the Events USCCR web page.