A Visit to the National Archives

Yesterday, we did some research at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Where the Carlisle Indian School student files reside—the ones that still survive, that is. The National Archives are located in a beautiful building at 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue. The building isn’t hard to find but parking is a challenge for us small-town folk. First, we found a two-hour meter that wouldn’t take quarters, only nickels and dimes. A helpful guard told us an empty spot in front of our car was legal but lacked a meter because it broke. That took care of the first two hours. Now to start the research.

After passing through security and being wanded because my belt buckle (I think) set off their alarm, we were directed to the station where ID cards are assigned. After taking an on-line course, we filled out a computer form for the ID cards and had digital photos taken. In a few minutes more we had new photo IDs that were good for a year. (Later in the day, a guard noticed that our IDs expired on 9/9/2009, so we had to get new ones made that expired on 9/9/2010.) Next stop: pull requests.

Researchers do not wander through the stacks of archives for good reason as evidenced by the politician who was found with documents stuffed up his pant leg. So, one must request the documents desired by submitting forms—in quadruplicate, one student per form, maximum 20 forms per pull. A man showed us how to fill out the forms and we hurried to get them in for the 11 o’clock pull (Records are pulled at 10, 11, 1:30 and 2:30, also 3:30 on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday because they are open to 9 p.m. on those days.). After filling out a set for the 1:30 pull, we moved the car to the back side of the building that had the European-style parking ticket machines. Only after giving it my credit card did I notice the two-hour maximum and that cars would be towed after 4 p.m. Two hours later, I found a parking garage that was open to 7 p.m.

Files from the 11 o’clock pull appeared in the reading room around noon, so it was time to go to work. One thing that surprised us was that we didn’t have to wear gloves when handling these 100-year-old documents. Once we found files we wanted to duplicate, it was time to make photocopies. Earlier we bought debit cards for that purpose. We found enough material to have the need to add money to the cards. Being aware that the cashier went home at 5 p.m., we put more money on the cards than we thought we’d need so we could make all the copies we needed. The bottom line of the card states, “Unused value on this card is not refundable.” Now we have a reason to make another visit to the Archives.


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