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

Pamela K Sayre pamelaksayre at gmail.com
Wed Mar 9 14:05:33 MST 2011

I may be a day late and a dollar short, having been in Missouri visiting parents, but I am surprised to see the statement that "there is no climate control" at the [National] archives in DC (for the civil war pension files)." The NARA building in downtown DC may be older than the buildings in or planned for the St. Louis area, but the peoples' documents are no less cared for in DC! I have been in the stacks and seen this firsthand. In my training as a NARA volunteer working on some of those very Civil War pension files being discussed, I have first-hand knowledge that the records ARE stored and handled with great care in climate-controlled environments, and volunteers receive many hours of training in preservation and security before even being allowed in the room to work on the project.

While living in St. Louis, I traveled annually to Washington for at least eight years for the sole purpose of researching in Civil War and earlier military records. Would it have served my own personal interests to be able to go 35 miles instead of 1,000 to see the files? Yes, BUT. While researching in Washington, DC, I have access to NARA staff who have been trained and worked with these military records for many years and who possess an in-depth knowledge not available anywhere else, just as experts in St. Louis probably have that expertise with twentieth-century military records in which they specialize. But far beyond simply the pension files, by making a single trip to Washington, I could also research the Accounting Office records or hospital records or correspondence records that dovetailed with the pension files. Part of the charter of any archive is to maintain the provenance of a record--not ordinarily rearranging a file or separating related files. If those Civil War and earlier pension files moved to St. Louis, their linkages to myriad other records in the National Archives would be broken.

I am a St. Louis-born girl now living in Washington until retirement in a few years. I know that St. Louis has a much lower cost of living and doing business than Washington, DC. However, part of NARA's charter besides preservation is records access. Many people travel to Washington to research at NARA, knowing that they can branch out and find even more information at rich repositories here with a national focus--the Library of Congress, the DAR Library, the Society of the Cincinnati Library, and Arlington National Cemetery, to name a few. While I could easily spend a week or two in St. Louis researching beyond pension files if they were relocated there, it is because I am a fifth-generation Missourian with research needs in that particular geographic area. Percentage-wise, very few people share that need; while almost every U.S. citizen can find records of interest to them in many Washington, DC-area repositories.

So although Pat Stamm and I have been friends for years, I beg to disagree that the records are not cared for very well in Washington, DC. Further, they are available to more researchers overall who come here to research. Yes, "when you have change you also have impact," but the real issue at the heart of the possible move of these records is whether that would be a GOOD impact! I have no doubt that in these tough financial times when Congress has cut funding to NARA, a real impact could be felt if every one of us volunteered to pitch in and help with a NARA project in our area, even if we can contribute only a few hours a month.


Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL 
E-mail: pamelaksayre at gmail.com 
Certified Genealogist (CG) and Certified Genealogical Lecturer (CGL) are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board-certified associates who meet genealogical competency standards prescribed for those programs.

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