Over the past several years, the U.S. National Archives has wholeheartedly embraced the Internet as a tool for engaging with their users - not only are they digitizing many of their more popular records and making them accessible online, but they also host several great blogs such as the NARAtions blog, and solicit feedback via social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. They even host Google hangouts!
On the NARA Web site there are thousands of online records,most of them accessible through either Online Public Access (OPA) or Access to Archival Databases (ADD). OPA provides a gateway to holdings of the National Archives, but does include descriptions of many records of interest to genealogists and family historians, including:
- applications for enrollment in Native American tribes
- court records
- fugitive slave cases
- land records
- military personnel records
- naturalization records
About 150,000 digital copies of documents can be accessed through OPA, or directly through the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), including selections from most of the previously mentioned collections. Not all of these digitized items are name searchable in ARC; instead you may need to browse a digital copy of the list by last name. The National Archives hosts an excellent ARC Guide for Genealogists and Family Historians with numerous search suggestions to get you started.
Access to Archival Databases (ADD) is where most of the online databases can be found on the NARA site, although the majority of these databases do not include digitized scans of the original records. Some, but definitely not all, can currently be accessed through OPA as well. Over 85 million historic electronic records created by more than 30 agencies of the U.S. federal government and from collections of donated historical materials can be accessed online through ADD - it's hard to believe that's only a tiny part of NARA's vast holdings! Genealogical records in ADD include passenger lists of immigrants to the Port of New York 1846-1851, WWII POWs and casualties, Korean War POWs and casualties, Japanese-American internees, Vietnam War casualties, and more. Check out the Help Page for tips on accessing records through Browse or Search.
Over the past few years, thousands of rolls of NARA microfilm, in addition to original, non-microfilmed records such as Civil War Widows' Pensions and Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims (1871-1880), have been digitized through NARA partnerships with Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. The millions of records contained in these collections have been placed online for subscription-based access by the two respective companies, and are also available free of charge in all NARA Research Rooms, including those in their regional archives and Presidential libraries. A fairly current list of digitized microfilm publications and records can be accessed on the NARA Web site - it's pretty impressive!