Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Update on the National Archives

In a comment to a recent post, I received a very nice response from Rebecca Warlow of the National Archives. I must say it is fairly unusual to receive a response from a record repository to one of my blog posts; this certainly speaks well of the National Archives. She points out another possible search engine on the National Archives website. The search is new and is called the Online Public Access System (OPA). You can find the link by going to the website and clicking on the Research Our Records link. The link to the OPA is on the Research Our Records page.

The NARA states the following,"The Online Public Access resource is the online public portal to our records and information about our records. The OPA prototype currently provides access to nearly one million electronic records currently in the Electronic Records Archives (ERA), which are not available elsewhere online. More electronic records from ERA will be included in OPA in the coming year."

They also indicated that the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) would be replaced by the OPA. However, the OPA does not replace the Archival Database system (AAD).  But there is more than a glimmer of hope that the OPA will make searching in the National Archives a little easier. Continuing to quote from the NARA, "Online Public Access searches all web pages on, and presents those pages in the search results along with any catalog records, biographies or histories from the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) and electronic records from Access to Archival Databases (AAD). Researchers will no longer need to perform separate searches for finding aids or other information related to our records on"

It is apparent from the explanations that the OPA is a work in progress, research still requires searching the other databases until they are replaced or fully incorporated.

So how well does the search do with law cases? I tried searching for my ancestor's case file that was found on and found no reference to the record. In all fairness, the record was being stored in the Denver Branch of the National Archives and had been transferred from the Utah State Archives. But how about some more prominent cases?

Since I was looking for uc/polygamous cases, I decided to look for Reynolds vs. United States. Hmm. I got Reynolds, an Indian agent for the Crow Indians in Montana. I got Reynolds a student at the University of Wisconsin and a bunch of military personnel. OK so maybe I need more detail.

By the way, here is what I am looking for, Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878) a U.S. Supreme Court case. His name, by the way, was George Reynolds. Further search under George Reynolds was also unproductive. I decided to try putting the name in quotes and adding the words supreme court. Progress. I find a link to Federal Court Records:Part 04. The link takes me to a long explanation on a page entitled "FEDERAL COURT RECORDS: A SELECT CATALOG OF NATIONAL ARCHIVES MICROFILM PUBLICATIONS (PART 4).

I begin to think maybe the National Archives doesn't have the Supreme Court decisions online or anywhere. But I do a general search on the "Supreme Court" and quickly find a page describing the Records of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Yes, the records are in the National Archives and apparently kept in Washington, D.C. I use the word "apparently" because I still have found no reference to the case. But now I at an end. Finally, I find this statement, "You can see a limited number of court case files in our Archival Research Catalog (ARC). However, at this time most of the information available on this web site describes the records, rather than shows them to you. Start with search hints for court records."

So where are the Supreme Court cases online? Well, here are some links


I could go on, obviously.

So where are we with the NARA? Making progress, still not there yet. Keep checking. Things change everyday

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