Discovering “Origin Stories” of the National Archives

Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, an archivist in the Textual Processing unit in the National Archives at College Park, MD. In celebration of American Archives Month, Alan gave a talk on interesting finds in the Records of the National Archives. You can view Alan’s talk on the National Archives YouTube Channel

National Archives Employee Identification Cards, 1941. (Records of the National Archives)
National Archives Employee Identification Cards, 1941. (Records of the National Archives)

What’s so great about a bunch of old employee ID cards? You might well wonder.

Since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to pictures. I would devour illustrated children’s encyclopedia volumes over my morning cereal. Even now, if a nonfiction work has a picture section, I always go to it first. While I read, I constantly flip back to the photos. Images help to give my imagination a framework, a point of reference.

Over the past five years, as I have worked to arrange and describe the office files of the National Archives. I’ve read reams of documents from employees of this agency. I’ve often wished I could see a photo of that person; to make that small connection with someone who helped to make the history of one of our nation’s most important institutions.

Wish granted.

As an archivist in the Textual Processing unit at the National Archives, I am constantly elbow-deep in old, filthy boxes filled with the routine, the bizarre, the touching, and the amazing. To have the privilege of working on my own’ agency’s records is great enough, but to discover such finds as these is really like a small present from the past.

And those presents just keep coming. To see more of such finds as these, view my recent presentation about this amazing project:


3 thoughts on “Discovering “Origin Stories” of the National Archives

  1. would love to spend the day with you .. the more paper work the better for me, sounds like a great job… thank you

  2. As a NARA employee, I found your talk a few weeks ago fascinating. Although post- lunch presentations can induce drowsiness, I found myself hanging on every word. I urge all who found this blog intriguing to take the time and view the presentation – even if it means eating lunch at your desk. It’s well worth it!

    1. Thanks, Nick! I knew lunchtime was going to be a tricky time slot, so I tried to cram some good stuff in there. Fortunately, there is a tremendous amount of “good stuff” about our agency’s story!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *