The Seizure of European Records during World War II

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part two of a series on the history behind some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.


The first U.S. Army men and equipment pour across the Remagen Bridge in Germany. In the foreground are two knocked-out Jeeps, 3/11/1945. (National Archives Identifier 531252)

The story of what would become the original documents to compose Record Group 242, Foreign Records Seized, begins in 1943 as war raged in Europe and across the Pacific.

Despite facing war on three separate continents, the War Department of the United States still found time to concern itself with records.

The War Department wanted to protect the many ancient and irreplaceable documents, monuments, and works of art that were located in the war zone.

With this in mind, the War Department adopted a policy of protecting culturally important landmarks and records—foreign archives included—as best they could without compromising military operations.

Continue reading

Posted in - World War II, National Archives History | Leave a comment

The Gems of Record Group 242 – Foreign Records Seized

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part one of a series on the history behind some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.

hms id number hd1-99101676

Eva Braun’s diary, ca. 1945. (National Archives Identifier 6921915)

When you think of the holdings at the National Archives, it’s likely that three prominent documents immediately come to mind. After the Charters of Freedom, you might think of the census records or maybe the naturalization records held here. Perhaps even the service records of military men and women from the many wars America has fought come to mind.

It is hardly a shock that the National Archives should hold any of these records seeing as it is the repository for U.S. Federal Government documents.

What may surprise you, and what certainly surprised me as a student of modern European history, was when “Eva Braun’s diary” was casually slipped into a list of holdings mentioned during my orientation to the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. That modest mention was the first I had heard of the National Archives housing anything but American documents, and sparked an interest to learn more about the foreign treasures we house.

Continue reading

Posted in - Constitution, - Declaration of Independence, - World War I, - World War II, National Archives History, Unusual documents | 6 Comments

Making it Official: The Day the Declaration of Independence was Signed

Declaration of Independence, Dunlap Broadside1776 00301_2000_001

John Dunlap printed copies of the Declaration of Independence in his Philadelphia shop on the night of July 4, 1776. The Dunlap Broadside does not include the names of all the signers. (National Archives Identifier 301682)

Today’s post comes from Andrew Grafton in the National Archives History Office.

Independence Day in the United States is celebrated on July 4, the day the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence.

If you ask just about any American, they can correctly identify that date.

What is less commonly known, however, is that it is unlikely that the Declaration itself was signed on July 4. In fact, it is probable that the majority of the delegates to Congress didn’t sign the document for nearly a month after ratification.

Today, a majority of U.S. historians agree that the document was in fact signed on August 2, 1776.

This date was initially a matter of dispute.

In the years after independence, reports from a variety of Founding Fathers asserted that the document was signed on the same day as it was adopted. According to the notes taken by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and others, the Declaration was signed on July 4, 1776.

Continue reading

Posted in - Declaration of Independence, - Revolutionary War | 1 Comment

The 1986 Immigration Act and My Lifetime Relationship with the Lincoln Cottage

Today’s post comes from Jim Zeender, Registrar on the National Archives Exhibits Staff. 


The 1986 Immigration Act, November 6, 1986. (General Records of the United States Government, National Archives)

On June 1, my colleagues Alexis Hill, Warren Halsey, and I culminated about nine months of work with a visit to the Lincoln Cottage on the grounds of the Old Soldiers Home. Terry Boone and Bill Nenichka had participated in previous trips. A host of other NARA staff helped prepare us for this day with their contributions back at the fort on Pennsylvania Avenue.

In the morning, we brought four pages from the original 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act to be featured as the latest in the museum’s originALs series.

You might be asking what is the connection between this immigration law signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and the Lincoln Cottage. Well, it’s kind of an interesting story. In September of last year, I received an email from Deputy Director Callie Hawkins:

Mr. Zeender—it’s nice to meet you, even if virtually. . . . [W]e would be interested in borrowing Public Law 38-205-1 An Act to Encourage Immigration, Record Group 11, General Records of the U.S. Government for a loan as part of our originALs initiative. originALs  highlights a single object that has its origins at the Cottage or represents an idea Lincoln was thinking through while living here. Given that he moved out to the Cottage for the last time on July 4, 1864, and that we’re opening an exhibit on Lincoln and immigration, we’d be delighted to exhibit this in our permanent galleries for a brief period of time.

Although best known for leading the United States through the Civil War and helping end legal slavery, President Lincoln made a tremendous impact on America’s immigration policy. On July 4, 1864, Lincoln moved to the Cottage for his final summer in residence. That same day, he signed into law An Act to Encourage Immigration, the first comprehensive immigration law in American history.  (Excerpted from the Lincoln Cottage Website).
Continue reading

Posted in - Civil War, - Presidents, Abraham Lincoln | Tagged , | 2 Comments

What is Loyalty?: David Patterson’s Oath of Office

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, Outreach Specialist in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.


Draft of Ironclad Oath, June 1862. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Could a person who had sworn an oath to the Confederacy later loyally serve the United States?

One hundred and fifty years ago, the U.S. Senate wrestled with this question for the first time.

When states from the defeated Confederacy were readmitted to the Union, some of those elected to Congress were the same people who had served the Confederate government or the governments of the seceded states. Citizens and government officials alike asked how these men could be trusted to serve the Union that they had so recently fought against.

One tool for judging the loyalty of potential office holders was the Ironclad Oath of 1862, a law passed by Congress during the Civil War to deter sabotage by Confederate sympathizers. The Ironclad Oath required that any federal officeholder (members of Congress were added in 1864) swear that he had never served a government in hostility to the United States.

Continue reading

Posted in - Civil War, U.S. Senate | Tagged | 3 Comments

A Celebration of Moms and Dads: National Parents’ Day

Today’s post comes from Andrew Grafton in the National Archives History Office. 


Photograph of First Dad Bill Clinton with his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, 11/7/2000. (National Archives Identifier 5899937)

In a nation as large and as diverse as the United States, it is rare to find something that nearly half of its citizens have in common. Though the U.S. economy supports a variety of different careers, there is one job that almost 150 million Americans share: being a parent.

In order to commemorate the major impact that parents have on the next generation of American citizens, parents and children alike across the United States celebrate National Parents’ Day. The national observance of Parents’ Day occurs annually on the fourth Sunday in July.

This year, Parents’ Day falls on July 24.

Although not as well-known as the traditional Mother’s and Father’s Days, National Parents’ Day nonetheless bears an important place in United States history and culture. The day is designated to celebrate the significant role that parents play in the lives of their children and to promote smart and responsible parenting.

On August 5, 1994, a joint resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives on “to establish the Fourth Sunday in July as Parents’ Day.” The House passed it on September 30, and the Senate on October 4. On October 14, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the resolution, and National Parents’ Day was born.

Continue reading

Posted in - Presidents, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Welcome to “The Rock”

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office.


Alcatraz Island, California, 1934. (National Archives Identifier 23935533)

On August 11, 1934, the first civilian prisoners arrived at the new federal penitentiary, which would infamously become known as “The Rock.”

The high-security prison on Alcatraz Island, a short ferry ride from San Francisco, was meant to show the American public that the federal government was serious about fighting the swell in crime that the nation saw in the 1920s and 1930s.

U.S. Penitentiary Alcatraz continued to house criminals for nearly 30 years, before ultimately closing its doors in 1963.

Continue reading

Posted in News and Events | Tagged , | Leave a comment

New Web Exhibit on FDR and the Presidential Library System


National Archives Act, June 19, 1934, signature page. (National Archives Identifier 299840)

Today’s post comes from Andrew Grafton in the National Archives History Office.

A man deeply devoted to preserving United States history, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made contributions to the National Archives that have proven invaluable.

Not only did he sign the law creating the National Archives, appoint the first Archivist of the United States, and oversee the building’s opening, FDR expanded the reach of federal recordkeeping by founding the first Presidential library under the administration of the National Archives.

The National Archives History Office has produced a new online exhibit on the FDR Library and the founding of the Presidential Library System, which is available though Google Cultural Institute.

Though his primary career was in politics, FDR was something of a closet archivist. His fascination with, and devotion to, federal recordkeeping was readily apparent while he occupied the West Wing.

Continue reading

Posted in - Presidents, National Archives History, National Archives Near You, News and Events | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amending America: the 14th Amendment


Joint Resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, proposed June 13, 1866 (National Archives Identifier 1408913)

Join one of the “Amending America” exhibit curators Christine Blackerby for a Facebook Live video on the  Huffington Post Politics page.

On July 9, 1868, the Fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution became law. It is arguably the most important of the 27 amendments.

The amendment originated after the Civil War when Congress attempted to pass legislation securing civil rights for the recently freed slaves. President Andrew Johnson repeatedly vetoed these bills because he believed individual states had the right to determine the status of freedmen without interference from the Federal government.

In order to take the issue out of Johnson’s reach, Congress chose to address civil rights with a constitutional amendment, and June 13, 1866, Congress approved a joint resolution proposing a five-part amendment to the Constitution.

Section one includes its most vital components.

Continue reading

Posted in - Civil War, - Constitution, bill of rights, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last Hands to Touch the Declaration of Independence

Today’s post comes from Victoria Blue, writer-editor in the Office of Internal Communications at the National Archives.

When Chief of Conservation Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler retires in July, the last hands to have touched the Declaration of Independence will leave the National Archives. She has been with the agency since 1985.

20160627-01-024 (1).jpg

Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Chief of Conservation, stands by the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Photo by Jeff Reed.

The Declaration of Independence was sealed in a glass and metal case in the early 1950s when it was still in the custody of the Library of Congress. It wasn’t until the Rotunda’s renovation in 2001 that conservators had the opportunity to take the Charters of Freedom (the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights) off of exhibit and think about next steps.

“There was the opportunity to think about whether or not the original encasement was still suitable in terms of long-term preservation needs,” Ritzenthaler recalled. “There was a piece of free-floating glass directly on top of the parchment to help keep it flat, so there was some worry about that.”

Along with now-retired conservator Kitty Nicholson, Ritzenthaler removed the Charters of Freedom from their earlier encasements to perform examinations and treatments.

Opening_Declaration_Encasement_Med _resolution.jpg

Kitty Nicholson removes the lead seal around the 1950s encasement of the Declaration of Independence as Doris Hamburg and Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler look on.

“Over the course of its history, the Declaration of Independence was handled a great deal,” Ritzenthaler said. “From 1776 on, it’s traveled a great deal. It was on exhibit. In many cases, it was stored at the Department of State and brought up for people to see and to handle. And it kind of showed the effects of all of that over the years.”

Understandably, Ritzenthaler and Nicholson were a little nervous to unseal the encasements, given the status of the documents. They decided to examine the Constitution and the Bill of Rights first before taking on the Declaration of Independence.

“We left the Declaration until the very end because we wanted to build our knowledge and experience,” she said. “It was with a great deal of awe and kind of amazement that we were the privileged people to have this task. We were very fortunate. Not that many conservators or archivists in their lifetimes will get to handle such an amazing document.”

The conservators faced a number of challenges. Parchment is made of animal skin, which makes it very different from paper. Given its age and history of extensive travel, exhibition, and handling, the Declaration of Independence was not in good condition. There was also the challenge of opening the encasements.


The Charters were carefully reencased after conservation treatment.

“There were always some uncertainties in opening those older encasements because they didn’t come with an instruction book, so we had to figure out our way,” Ritzenthaler said. “There was a piece of glass sitting directly on top of the parchment, so the worry was that, even though we did not have any problem opening the six previous charters encasements, would the glass stick to the surface of the skin? Or would there be any ink flakes that would have attached to the glass? Neither of those things happened, so we were very fortunate.”

The conservators did not wear gloves when handling the parchment. “That surprises a lot of people because wearing gloves for certain kinds of artwork and photographs is a very good thing to do because you avoid fingerprinting,” Ritzenthaler said. “But with the parchment, we wanted to make sure that we were handling it as carefully as we could, and, sometimes, when you’re wearing gloves, you don’t have the same manual dexterity. So care was our big concern—and our hands were always clean!”

As Ritzenthaler prepares for retirement, she takes with her the experience of being one of very few people on the planet to have physically held the Declaration of Independence.

“It touched me a great deal to have this opportunity to work on this project,” she said. “I’m sure that, in the future, there will be other Archives members who will have the same opportunity, but the encasements will last for a very long time.”

When the encasements were returned to the Rotunda in 2003, the National Institute for Standards and Technology estimated that they will stay sealed for close to 100 years.

20160627-01-034 (1).jpg

Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler stands in the Rotunda at National Archives in Washington, DC, in front of the Charters of Freedom. Photo by Jeff Reed.

“Working on all of the Charters of Freedom documents—the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence—was exciting, amazing, and awe-inspiring. But the Declaration really trumps them all as one of the most significant items in our history,” Ritzenthaler said. “Being the last person to actually handle the Declaration of Independence is rather awe-inspiring. It was an honor to be able to work on that document and certainly the highlight of my career.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment