Sunday, March 20, 2011

Preparing to Attend the National Institute for Genealogical Research (NIGR)

Today there was a question on a genealogy mailing list about preparing to attend the National Institute for Genealogical Research (NIGR), and I decided my response would be useful to share with others. Here are my suggestions for planning ahead to get the most out of the NIGR experience and research time at the National Archives. 

1. Read the recommended text before you attend NIGR
Read the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States edited by Anne Bruner Eales and Robert M. Kvasnicka. This will give you a good overview of the records and then you will be able to pick up finer details in the classes. 

2. Create a research plan of records you would like to search. This will make your limited time at the National Archives more efficient.

Think of ways that your ancestors may have interacted with the federal government so you will know what types of records you want to look at while you are at the National Archives. Did they serve in the military? Did they buy federal land or apply for a homestead? Did they immigrate to the U.S.? 

The most commonly used records for genealogists are:
* Census Records
* Military Records
* Immigration Records (Ship Passenger Lists)
* Naturalization Records
* Land Records
The classes at NIGR will teach you to go beyond the basic records, but these categories are a good place to start organizing your plan.

3. Use the records that have been digitized before you come, and spend your time at NARA on original records not available anywhere else.

A list of the records that have been digitized and are available on NARA partner web site can be found at

This list can be reorganized by clicking on the column headers at the top of the list. For example, if you click on "Record Group" at the top right then you can scroll down the list to see the digitized records of the Veterans Administration in record group (RG) 15, naturalization records in RG 21, military records in RG 94, and so forth.

4. Review the resources available on the National Archives web site

a. You may want to begin with the page "Start Your Genealogy Research" which contains a power point tutorial and links to pages for each of the major record groups at

b. The main page for genealogists contains links to the online research tools.

c. Spend some time learning to use the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) or the new Online Public Access system (OPA) on the National Archives web site at
In ARC you can search for materials by topic or keyword. There will be additional finding aids available on site at the National Archives.

5. Prepare for your field trips to the Library of Congress and Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library before you come

You can access their catalogs online to create a research plan and therefore use your time at these facilities efficiently.

Research at the National Archives can be fun, and attending NIGR is a great way to learn about the many different types of federal records available for research.


  1. Great suggestions, Angela. I wish I'd had this information before I attended NIGR last year!

  2. Thank you, Angela. I much appreciate your suggestions and have printed out your blog as well as bookmarked it so I can find all those sources again. Looking forward to NIGR!

  3. Angela,
    Thanks for this helpful post! I hope to be able to attend NIGR one day, so have printed it to save. Your blog is a great source of information and a pleasure to read. I am happy to give you the One Lovely Blog Award. You can find the details on my blog, A Sense of Family, at: