[APG Public List] Possible move of military records out of the NARA facility in Washington, DC

Claire Bettag claire at clairebettag.com
Sat Mar 5 21:09:42 MST 2011

Possible move of military records out of the Washington, D.C. National Archives facility.

A rumor is again circulating regarding the possible move (after 2012) of military records, including pensions, from NARA’s Washington D.C. facility to another NARA facility—possibly in St. Louis. We’ve been trying to get facts before sending “red flag alerts.” But facts are hard to come by since no firm decisions have been made. We think it is important to get word out about the possible move, so researchers can weigh in now--before a decision is taken and it is too late. See the background and details below (and on the NARA blog).


We hope researchers will comment about this issue on the NARA blog: http://blogs.archives.gov/online-public-access/?p=4620 . NARA has been urging researchers to use the blogs to communicate their needs. Under the new archivist, NARA is advocating greater transparency and urging users to become involved. Here is an opportunity. Please let NARA know what you think.

Storage space is running low at NARA, Washington, D.C. and College Park, Maryland.

Storage space is running low at NARA and the current space plan goes only until 2012. At that point undoubtedly records now in Washington and / or College Park, Maryland, will have to be sent elsewhere. Apparently, despite local researchers' strongly expressed concerns, military records, including pensions, ARE among the records being considered for relocation. 

We sense that those military records are the ones most heavily used by researchers at NARA--at least by family historians--although we have not yet seen statistics (NARA apparently is compiling them). Moving them would put a large hole in the records of genealogical value available to researchers  doing on-site work in Washington D.C. Additionally, if the pension and service records move while other military records remain in D.C, it is more difficult to do a complete search as we typically use other military records in conjunction with the pension and service records. We are concerned about even the “remote” possibility that military records, including pensions, may be among those tagged for moving. 

Apparently NARA officials are trying to identify and designate for moving first those records “least used” or those digitized and available online. The question is whether that will free up sufficient space for future needs. We are told that if the military records are moved, there is a "good faith" plan (but no guarantee) to have them digitized before moving them. Digitizing the records will take quite a lot of time, so if that's the case, the records will remain in Washington D.C. for a good while. (Right now, FamilySearch and Footnote are digitizing just the Civil War widows' pensions, and the proposed time for completion is about 50+/- years.) But again, NARA officials are not guaranteeing the records would be digitized before moving.

This issue has been discussed at the "user meetings" held quarterly at NARA, most recently on 18 February. The minutes of that meeting are posted to the NARA blog at: http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/researcher-users-group/2011-feb-18.pdf  . The part dealing with this topic is copied below, as well. Please take a look to get the whole story--or as much as we know at the moment--and then give your feedback to NARA.

Thank you for your attention.

Claire Bettag, CG, CGL


FROM MINUTES OF THE 18 FEBRUARY MEETING AT NARA (complete minutes at:  http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/researcher-users-group/2011-feb-18.pdf 

V. A discussion of plans for the potential move of pension files (see pages 6 and 7 of the minutes from our November meeting for more information) with Susan Cummings 
This is the same as last time. There have been no further conversations about moving military pension files to the St. Louis archives. We have a plan to manage space through fiscal year 2012 and are working on longer term solutions. Moving the pension files is still a remote possibility. Our plan is that pension files would be digitized before being moved, if we ever get to that point. There will be many more discussions about all the possible solutions to our space needs. We will keep you informed. 

Underground storage such as the caves in Kansas and Missouri are part of our overall space plan. We can’t move in new records into Archives I and II until older, lesser-used records are out.
Answers to Questions: 
We keep stats on records so we know what is heavily used. Ann Cummings put together a list online of those records that have moved. Rebecca Warlow will look into seeing if this list of records can be placed into a table so they can be sorted. 

Comment: There is 100% opposition to military records being moved. 

The plan is to digitize records before they are moved. It is a good faith plan. 

You have Susan’s 100% oath that we will discuss movement of records as early as we can with you. Susan can look at the next level of records to be moved. (Response: From Archives 2 - RG 241 - Patent Case Files; RG 503: Court of Customs and Patent Appeals case files are also scheduled for off-site storage at the Lenexa facility. 

From Archives 1 - RG 287 - Publications of the U.S. Government; RG 21 - Case Files of the District Court of the United States from the District of Columbia, Civil Action Case Files, 1938-1969. These files are retrievable by a case number.; RG 15, Records of the Veterans Affairs, NSO, NSC, NWO, and NWC Pension Files, A1 Entries 5-8, Available on National Archives Microfilm Publications M1408, M1469, M1274, and M1279. There is a database listing of these materials. RG 15 is going to be shipped to the NARA facility in St. Louis that holds the archival military personnel records. RG 503: Court of Customs and Patent Appeals case files are also scheduled for off-site storage at the Lenexa facility.) 

The State Department records are the most heavily used. Susan is looking into if/how to make usage statistics available to the public and do it based on each building. {Response: we use a two prong approach to determine which records are least used: we check with the reference archivists and then we verify their answers with physically counting the pull slips which are stored by record group. NARA has been looking into an automated system for pulls that will make requests much easier for researchers at home and in person as well as provide us with a more accurate way of collecting usage data. This too is dependent on future funding.

We are doing everything we can to keep up with technology. We use NIST and International Standards Organization standards as part of understanding digitizing records to keep up with new formats. ERA will hold these digital materials. We are doing it scalable and designed so we can adapt to new technology. 

Concern expressed: Once scanned, originals will not be available again. Technology keeps changing. 

We have space available until 2012. 

Trevor Plante clarified what was going where and what was being digitized before being sent. He mentioned that the records going to Lenexa were not being digitized first. The records going there would be low use records that we would still provide reference service on. So if a researcher requested a file, we would then retrieve the file from Lenexa for them to view. Diane Dimkoff then mentioned that Dr. Kurtz stated at a User Group meeting last summer the possibility of sending Compiled Military Service Records and Pension files to St. Louis. Those records would go to the Archival part of NPRC. Kurtz stated that only service records and pensions that had been digitized would go to St. Louis. 

Concern expressed: Widows Pension Files being digitized by FamilySearch is in black/white and this is not acceptable. 

The best way to give us input is to send it to Susan and/or put it in the blogs to the Archivist. It will be the Researcher Council in the future. The Researcher Council will be accessible. We will also have smaller groups like this one. 

Claire Bettag
1685 34th Street NW
Washington, DC 20007
cell: 202-436-2121

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