Chicago Area Special Collections members traveled to Chicago’s south side on Friday, April 13th to tour the National Archives at Chicago. Douglas Bicknese, Director of Archival Operations, presented a general history of the National Archives and Records Administration and described the role that the Chicago location has within the greater system. He then led us on a tour of the facility’s public spaces and staff working areas.
Doug explained that there are two programs at Chicago’s National Archives location. Records still owned by the federal agencies that created them are housed in the Chicago Federal Records Center. After a certain number of years, permanently valuable records are then transferred to the National Archives at Chicago, where they are organized, described, and re-housed in acid-free folders and boxes. Ninety-seven to ninety-nine percent of records originally housed in the Chicago Federal Records Center are eventually destroyed in accordance to record schedules they jointly develop with the National Archives.
The National Archives at Chicago preserves records created by the U.S. District Courts, U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, and U.S. Circuit Courts for the Great Lakes region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin). Records date back to the early 19th century and include bankruptcy case files, naturalization records, criminal case files, record books, and other materials valuable for their historical and legal significance. The staff led a show-and-tell of some of their favorite records, including a scorched document that survived the Great Chicago Fire, court documents signed by Walt Disney, letters written by Abraham Lincoln, and documents and artifacts relating to the Chicago Seven and the Manhattan Project.
The Chicago facility is open for public research Monday through Friday from 8:00AM to 4:15PM. Researchers have access to a research room where they can consult original documents from the archival collections. There is also a computer research area for using microfilm machines and searching Ancestry.com online. The staff welcomes volunteers and student interns, and a number of their resources and finding aids are available on their website. Overall, we learned that the National Archives team wears a variety of hats: records management, cataloging, processing collections, creating finding aids, answering reference questions, assisting genealogists with their research, teaching, and performing research on the archive’s collections.
Thank you to Doug and his entire team for their friendliness, hospitality, and conversation!