- Searching ARC
- Archival Descriptions Search
- Digital Copies Search
- People Search
- Organizations Search
- Limiting Search Results
- Keyword Quick Reference
- Keyword Detailed Reference
- Keyword Searching
Keyword Searching on Advanced Search
- Exact Phrase Searching
- Searching with Parentheses
- Boolean Operators
- Stop Words
- Wildcard Searching
- Search Term Highlighting
- Advanced Search Filters
- Type of Archival Materials
- Location of Archival Materials
- Level of Description
- Date Options
- Description Identifiers
The Archival Research Catalog (ARC) is the online catalog of the National Archives' nationwide holdings in the Washington DC area, Regional Archives and Presidential Libraries. ARC currently contains descriptions of 58% of NARA's traditional holdings. Many of these holdings are described broadly at the Record Group, Collection and Series levels. For some series, ARC includes specific descriptions at the File Unit and Item levels.
Use the Archival Descriptions Search if you are looking for information about any type of holdings held by NARA.
When you choose the Archival Descriptions Search, you will be able to enter one or more keywords or exact phrases relating to your research interest. ARC will search for the terms or phrases in all parts of the archival descriptions, including the title, subjects, names of people or organizations found in the materials, and the physical format of the materials. The Archival Descriptions Advanced Search will give you options to filter and refine your search. See Keyword Quick Reference or Keywords Detailed Reference for further tips on entering the search, and see Advanced Search Filters for more information on filters.
It is also possible to search for records that are filed within a Record Group, Collection, Series or File Unit using the Search within button. See To view related archival descriptions for more information about this type of search.
Note: If the main focus of your research is a person or an organization, then the People or Organizations searches may be better starting points. Please see Tutorial 4 - People and Organization Searches.
Use the Digital Copies Search if you would like to limit your search to archival descriptions that include links to digital copies of NARA holdings.
When you choose the Digital Copies Search, two things will happen when you submit your search: 1) only descriptions that have digital copies associated with them will be included in the results, and 2) the search results pages will include thumbnails of the digital copies in addition to the text information.
Please note that selecting the Digital Copies Search is only one method for accessing digital copies in ARC. If there is a digital copy linked to a description, you will see it whether or not you have selected the Digital Copies Search. For example, when results are displayed in the Archival Descriptions Search, the Digital Copy available icon is visible. Click on that icon to display the digital copy.
Archival descriptions may also include an Online Resource icon which may provide a link to an external source with digitized versions of NARA holdings. However, these descriptions will not be retrieved in the Digital Copies Search.
The People Search allows you to search for specific People that are associated with archival descriptions. You can link from specific People descriptions to view archival descriptions associated with them.
To use this search click the People Search button. This will take you to a search screen where you can enter keywords to find information about specific individuals. You may enter keywords following the regular Keyword Search syntax.
An alternative browse search method allows you to search alphanumerically for People based on their last name. To browse, click on one of the buttons containing a letter of the alphabet. This will take you to a page or the first page of multiple pages, that displays a list of people with last names beginning with the chosen letter. Pre-defined alphanumeric sorting rules determine the order that the names appear in.
When you click on a name in either the keyword or browse search results the full description for that person is displayed.
Note: You may see names followed by the word USE. The names in front of the word USE are other forms of a Person's name and have not been associated with the descriptions. If you click on the hyperlinked name appearing after USE you are automatically taken to the full description of the "preferred" Person Name.
The full description for a person shows the total number of archival descriptions that the "preferred" person name appears in. That number is broken down by Roles. These roles reflect the association the person has with the described archival materials. The possible role types are Creator, Contributor, Donor, or Subject. Click on any of the links to view the related description(s).
See Authority Record Reference for further tips.
The Organizations Search allows you to search for specific Organizations that are associated with archival descriptions. You can link from specific Organization descriptions to view the archival descriptions associated with them.
To use this search click the Organizations search button. This will take you to a search screen where you can enter new keywords to find the information about specific organizations. You may enter keywords following the regular Keyword Search syntax.
An alternative browse search method allows you to search alphanumerically for Organization names. To browse, click on one of the buttons containing a symbol or letter of the alphabet. This will take you to a page or the first page of multiple pages that displays a list of Organization names beginning with the chosen letter. Pre-defined alphanumeric sorting rules determine the order that the Organization names appear in.
When you click on an Organization in either they keyword or browse search results the full description for that Organization is displayed.
Note: You may see Organization names followed by the word USE. The names in front of the word USE are other forms of an Organization's name and have not been associated with the descriptions. If you click on the hyperlinked Organization name appearing after USE you are automatically taken to the full description of the preferred Organization name.
The full description for an Organization shows the total number of archival descriptions that the preferred Organization Name(s) appear in. That number is broken down by Roles. These roles reflect the association the organization has with the described archival materials. The possible role types are Creator, Contributor, Donor, or Subject. Click on any of the links to view the related description(s).
See Authority Record Reference for further tips.
For all ARC searches, the number of results that are displayed can be limited by clicking on one of the three choices in the "Limit results to" box: 100, 1000 or 2000. The default number of search results that will be displayed is 100. The maximum number of results that can be displayed is 2000.
Neither the search pages (Basic or Advanced) nor your search results can be bookmarked. Please bookmark the ARC main page instead.
Note: It is possible to create a "Search Link" that automatically retrieves descriptions based on pre-determined search parameters. To learn more about this please see Tips for ARC Search Links.
The following is a Quick Reference for the most common types of search expressions and operators you can use to refine your search.
|Search Expression||Search Results|
|Harry Truman||Finds all descriptions where both the term Harry and the term Truman are present. There is an implicit AND between the words entered.|
|Harry AND Truman||Finds all descriptions where both the term Harry and the term Truman are present. Note that AND must be capitalized.|
|Harry OR Truman||Finds descriptions containing either Harry or Truman, such as Harry Harrison, Truman K. Gibson, Harry Truman. Note that OR must be capitalized.|
|"Harry S. Truman"||Finds descriptions containing the exact phrase Harry S. Truman or Harry S Truman (punctuation is ignored), but not Harry Truman.|
|(Harry Truman) AND Captain||Finds Harry Truman, 129th Field Artillery Captain.|
|Truman NOT Harry||Finds all descriptions containing Truman but not also including Harry, such as Truman K. Gibson, but not Harry Truman. Note that NOT must be capitalized.|
|(Franklin OR (Theodore NOT Teddy)) AND Roosevelt||Finds Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt (as long as there is no reference to Teddy Roosevelt).|
|bal*||Finds ball, balance, ballast, balderdash, etc. Note placement of the wildcard asterisk (*) at the end of the search term. For example b*l, *al, will not be treated as wildcard searches.|
Keyword searching is performed from any of the keyword search boxes on the Archival Descriptions and Digital Copies (both Basic and Advanced), People, and Organizations search pages. When you enter terms into a keyword search box, the results you receive depend on how the terms are interpreted by the search engine, as described here.
If you enter more than one word in the keyword search box, and none of those words are search operators, then your search results will include descriptions that contain all the words (the words are automatically combined using the AND operator).
An operator is a reserved word with a special meaning, such as AND, OR, NOT. The results of the search will change depending upon when and where you use an operator. If you enter only one word in the keyword search box, and that word is not an operator, then your search results will include only descriptions where that one word appears.
If you enter more than one word in the keyword search box, and you include an operator, then the search will perform just the specified operation.
- Example 1: If you enter Harry Truman, then your search results will include descriptions where the word Harry and the word Truman both appear. The words Harry and Truman are automatically combined using AND. They do not need to be next to each other and they do not need to be in the order specified.
- Example 2: If you enter "Harry S. Truman" AND Captain, then your search results will include descriptions where Harry S. Truman or Harry S Truman is found exactly and in that order (punctuation is ignored), and the word Captain is also found somewhere in the description.
Keywords are not case sensitive, but operators are. You must enter an operator in UPPER case; otherwise, it will be interpreted as a normal search word.
All punctuation is ignored apart from double quotes ", parentheses () and the wildcard symbol *. Double quotes are used in exact phrase searching. Parentheses are used to group search terms and imply precedence. The wildcard character is used to expand a search term.
Apostrophe-s ('s) is ignored except in exact phrase searching. For example if you search Kennedy's this will also find references including Kennedy. If you search Kennedy this will also find Kennedy's. Diacritics are ignored on all types of searches. Search terms containing diacritics (e.g., ä) will find references containing the word as you entered it, as well as words containing the nearest basic equivalent letter.
Keyword searching assigns a relevancy value to each result. The default sort is based on this relevancy value and results are displayed in descending order, most relevant to least relevant. Relevancy is based upon the number of times a keyword appears in a description, as well as its placement in the description.
The Advanced Search screen provides several search boxes that mimic Boolean operators and thereby remove the need for users to know advanced searching syntax. The boxes give you the option to find results "with all of the words", "with the exact phrase", "with at least one of the words", and "without the words".
If you enter more than one word in the "with all of the words" search box, the words are automatically combined using the AND operator, and your search results will only include descriptions that contain all of the words you entered.
If you enter more than one word in the "with at least one of the words" search box, the words are automatically combined using the OR operator, and your search results will include any description that contains at least one of the words you entered.
If you enter more than one word in the "without the words" search box, the operator NOT is placed before your words and your search results will not include any of the words you entered.
If you enter a phrase in the "with the exact phrase" search box, your search will be limited to the order of the terms as they appear in the phrase. Double quotes need not be used when a phrase is entered in this search box. For more information on this type of search parameter, see Exact Phrase Searching.
Note: When you enter terms in more than one search box, the search boxes are ANDed together. For example, if you entered green bay in the "with the exact phrase" search box and entered madison in the "with at least one of the words" search box, ARC will process this search as "green bay" AND madison. If you want to search for an exact phrase OR a single term, you must use the "with all of the words" search box. For example, in the "with all of the words" search box you would enter "green bay" OR madison.
Exact phrase searching limits your search to multiple terms in the precise order specified. For example, searching for "south east asia" will only find descriptions that include those three words side by side and in that order.
You can specify exact phrase searches in any of the available search boxes by enclosing the phrase in double quotes " ". For example, when you enter "Harry Truman" in the basic keyword search box, your results will only include descriptions where the words Harry and Truman appear together, in that exact order. In this example you will not retrieve Harry S. Truman.
If you enter an operator inside of the double quotes, then the operator is treated like a regular word, and the search is based on an exact phrase match. For example, if you enter the exact phrase "Jackie and Kennedy", your search results will include descriptions where the three words Jackie and Kennedy appear (all together and in that order). Note: Because the word "and" (when not used as an operator) is a stop word, the search engine will also search for any three word phrase that starts with Jackie and ends with Kennedy, because the search engine ignores stop words.
If you enter more than one exact phrase, and you do not include an operator, then your search results will include descriptions where both exact phrases are found. For example, if you enter "Harry Truman" "Jackie Kennedy", your search results will include descriptions where both Harry Truman (together and in that order) and Jackie Kennedy (together and in that order) appear. However, if you enter "Harry Truman" OR "Jackie Kennedy", your search results will include descriptions that have either Harry Truman or Jackie Kennedy or both.
If you enter an exact phrase plus one or more other words, and you do not include an operator, then your search results will find descriptions that include both the other word(s) and the exact phrase. For example, if you enter Truman "Jackie Kennedy", then this is interpreted as Truman AND "Jackie Kennedy".
- Punctuation is ignored in exact phrase searching except for apostrophes, e.g., 's. It is also case insensitive.
- The Advanced Search page provides a separate search box for exact phrase searches, and double quotes are not required.
Parentheses () are used to group search terms together and give precedence of those terms over others. For example (Franklin AND Theodore) OR Roosevelt would search for descriptions containing Franklin and Theodore in them, or Roosevelt.
Franklin AND (Theodore OR Roosevelt) would search for descriptions containing Franklin and, either Theodore or Roosevelt in them.
The following Boolean operators are valid in the basic search box and the "with all of the words" search box in the Advanced Search. Enter them in uppercase otherwise the system will interpret them as normal search words:
Use the AND operator to search for descriptions that contain at least one occurrence of each of the search terms. In other words, ALL of the keywords must be present for a description to be retrieved.
For example, to retrieve descriptions that contain the words "red", "blue", and "black", enter the following in the search box:
red AND blue AND black
Use the OR operator to search for descriptions that contain at least one occurrence of ANY of the search terms. In other words, only ONE of the keywords must be present for a description to be retrieved.
For example, to retrieve descriptions that contain the words "cats" or dogs", enter the following in the search box:
cats OR dogs
Use the NOT operator to search for descriptions that contain one keyword, but not the other.
For example, to retrieve descriptions that contain the word "animals" but not "dogs", enter the following in the search box:
animals NOT dogs
There are some common English-language words that the ARC system will not find in a search because they have not been indexed. This helps improve system performance.
The ARC stop words are:
Search terms can include a wildcard at the end. The wildcard character is the asterisk (*).
For example, to retrieve descriptions that contain the words child and children, enter child* in the search box.
Note: There is a system limit imposed on the number of expansions possible from a wildcard. If a wildcard search has more than 5000 possible expansions from the wildcard into words known by the system (such as b*), an error is displayed.
To have the system highlight occurrences of your search terms in the retrieved descriptions, click the Highlight Search Terms checkbox on the search or results pages. The search terms are highlighted in all summary and full description search results pages (except My List).
To remove search term highlighting, uncheck the Highlight Search Terms checkbox.
Note: Due to some minor system limitations, stop words and apostrophes that are used in exact phrase searches may or may not be highlighted in the search results.
Filters allows you to refine your search parameters. To use the filters, click the Advanced Search link from the Archival Descriptions or Digital Copies basic search pages. Several filters are available:
Type of Archival Materials: the general form of the archival materials.
Location of Archival Materials: the NARA unit that provides reference services for the archival materials.
Level of Description: the position of the description within the hierarchy of the archival materials.
Date Options: the dates associated with the archival materials.
Click on the filter title to view all the available filter values.
You can use the filters alone, or with the keyword search boxes.
For example, if you only want to find descriptions from the Jimmy Carter Library, simply open the Location of Archival Materials filter, click Deselect all, and then check Jimmy Carter Library. Only descriptions that are listed for that location will be retrieved by your search.
You can check more than one value in a filter. After opening the filter, click Deselect all, then select all the values desired. For example, if you want descriptions from both the Jimmy Carter Library and NARA's Southeast Region (Atlanta), simply check BOTH of these options before submitting your query.
You can mix and match as many filters as you wish. Combined with the keyword search, filtering provides a very powerful means of querying the ARC database.
The Type of Archival Materials filter allows you to limit your search to descriptions that contain one or more types of archival materials, such as Textual Records, Maps and Charts or Moving Images.
Simply checking and unchecking the boxes activates the filter. The default is that all Types are selected. Uncheck the boxes to deselect particular types. Alternatively use Deselect all and then check boxes for only the type(s) you want.
The Location of Archival Materials filter allows you to limit your search to descriptions of materials held by one or more specific NARA units across the country such as the Jimmy Carter Library.
Simply checking and unchecking the boxes activates the filter. The default is that all archives locations are selected. Uncheck the boxes to deselect particular archives locations. Alternatively use Deselect all and then check boxes for only the archives location(s) you want.
This filter allows you to limit your search to descriptions at one or more archival level such as File Unit.
Simply checking and unchecking the boxes activates the filter. The default is that all levels are selected. Uncheck the boxes to deselect particular levels. Alternatively use Deselect all and then check boxes for only the level(s) you want.
The Levels of Description are:
This filter allows you to narrow your search by means of the dates associated with the archival materials. The ARC database can be searched by the following types of dates: Inclusive Dates, Coverage Dates, Production Date, Copyright Date, Broadcast Date or Release Date.
The Date Range filter option consists of two sets of date boxes in which you can enter a year (YYYY). ARC will find descriptions of materials that fall between the provided date range. If you leave the first date blank, ARC will default to the earliest date in the database. If you leave the last date blank, ARC will default to the current date.
The Descriptions Created or Updated Since filter option allows you to enter a specific date in order to find new or updated descriptions from the previous date you have searched in ARC. You may enter only a year, a month and a year, or a month, day and year. If the day date box is left blank, the system will search every day for the entered month. If the day and month boxes are both left blank, the system will search every day and month for the entered year.
The Archival Descriptions Advanced Search Description Identifiers keyword search box provides you with a convenient means of filtering your search based on some of the most common identifiers used by NARA to identify archival descriptions. These identifiers include:
- Record Group Number
- Collection Identifier
- ARC Identifier
- Local Identifier
- Variant Control Number, such as a NAIL Control Number, Agency-Assigned Identifier, or MLR Number
- Former Record Group Number
- Former Collection Identifier
Enter the appropriate number/identifier such as 194229 or "NWCTB-75-PI163E98" (or combine numbers, following the standard keyword search syntax.)