National archives at St. Louis


Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selective Service System Draft Registration Card

The National Archives at St. Louis is home to millions of selective service system draft registration cards for men born prior to March 29, 1957.  In 2012, selective service registration cards were transferred to St. Louis from other NARA sites around the country.  The Reformatting Unit of the Preservation Programs at St. Louis recently stabilized, organized, and   re-produced digital copies of 17 boxes of these records which will available for public access.  During the project, Martin Luther King, Jr’s selective service card was located and scanned for public viewing.  Selective service registration cards can be viewed by the public and contains a great source of information for family history, genealogy, and scholarly research.


The National Archives at Saint Louis, in collaboration with the Saint Louis Preservation Program, opened its newest exhibition featuring some of America’s most memorable photographic images.  “Through America’s Lens: Focusing on the Greatest Generation, 1920-1945,” features a mixture of iconic photographs and textual documents from the Federal personnel file of some of America’s most prolific photographers and artists.  The exhibit opened Monday, March 11, 2013 and runs through Friday, September 27, 2013.  It is open to the public Monday through Friday (except Federal holidays) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.  In conjunction with the exhibit is an exhibit lecture series.  For further information on lectures, please visit

What the ….?

St. Louis Preservation Tech Jennifer Farr recently came across a record in an unusual condition: it had dark brown, sparkly stains on it.

Since we need to get records for open requests out as quickly as possible, she surface cleaned the pages and sent the record on its way after having Reformatting’s Lenny Hurtado shoot some photos of it.

But Farr’s curiosity was piqued, so she posted a query on our Internal Collaboration Network (in-house social media network) to see if others in NARA had ever found something unusual in their collections.

She received dozens of responses: wine stains, food, coal dust, spit tobacco, cat paw prints, illegal drugs, poker chips, lipstick, the “pension mole,” even an “undersea soil sample in (a) reused ice cream container.”

As Sara Holmes, the senior preservation specialist noted, “There are so many things … that make you wish the pages could talk to let you know just exactly how that happened!”

Preserving Pearl Harbor Documents

The photo above shows a service jacket and salvaged service record, with Navy envelope, for William Wells. Wells enlisted at Kansas City, Mo. on Jan. 1, 1940, and died Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor after achieving the rank of Signalman 3rd class. Also lost that day was his brother, Raymond Virgil Wells. They were one of 23 sets of brothers on the Arizona who died that day. (ARC series # 299693)

One of the most important decisions a conservator can make is not how to complete a treatment, but when NOT to treat. An important example of this can be found in the records salvaged from the U.S.S. Arizona after it was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. These service records, which were held one level below the main deck, were not submerged in water but were subjected to heat, fire, and high humidity. Salvaged by the Navy and sealed in envelopes which contained the damaged documents, the records came to NARA in the 1950s and are now housed at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.

As part of Preservation Awareness Week, the National Archives at St. Louis National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) invited employees and visitors to bring their treasures to the Preservation Road Show Thursday, July 12.

Preservation experts will offer guests practical advice on caring for their personal items, including photos, home movies, paper documents, artwork, comics, and scrapbooks. The Road Show will also feature interactive games, clinics, and brief lectures on topics such as digital records management and film preservation.

For more information, visit the National Archives at St. Louis Facebook page.

St. Louis Preservation Program took second place for its “Christmas Story”-themed entry in the National Personnel Records Center’s annual Holiday Basket Contest. Volunteers from each department created gift baskets, and staff members contributed money and/or materials. Once winners were chosen, the baskets were given away as attendance prizes at our annual Holiday Party. The winning departments got gift cards for pizza parties, which are paid for with money from the center’s Fundraising Committee. The basket contest gives creative staff members the chance to impress their coworkers and helps to put us all in the holiday spirit.


What a Difference a Move Makes

When the National Archives at St. Louis National Personnel Records Center moved into its new building, we did it for the records.

NARA monitors temperature and relative humidity throughout our buildings with electronic dataloggers called Preservation Environment Monitors, or PEMs. The PEMs constantly gather temperature and humidity readings, which we collect and evaluate. The data can alert us to problems with our HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems before they become serious.

The first graph is from our old building on Page Avenue. The second graph is from one of Archives Drive’s archival bays. Notice how often the PEM recorded temperatures at Page Avenue that were above 100° F and humidity levels that were above 60%.  Under NARA Directive 1571 the proper temperature and humidity for archival records is 65°F/35% (±5%).

So, the move made not only the employees but our holdings much happier.

Perfecting our skills

Fall is when most students return to school, and the grown-up kids in St. Louis Preservation Programs did that, too. The Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies offers classes for professionals who work in many areas of cultural resource management, from architectural renovation to textile stabilization to digitization. This year, St. Louis staff studied microscopy, digital forensics, care of photographs, and the care of paper artifacts. That last class was taken by Preservation Technicians John Nkenchor and Carol Gorecki, shown here.

The Campbell Center draws a national and even international student body. And Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, chief of the Document Conservation Lab at Archives II in College Park, Md., co-taught the class “Preservation of Archives.”

We can’t wait to test our new skills in the lab.


The Last Box
On Tuesday, Nov. 6, the last box from the National Personnel Records Center’s more than four-year move was placed in its new home. It now resides on a shelf in Bay 13 at the new NPRC National Archives at St. Louis. The bay conforms to NARA’s archival temperature and humidity standards. An astounding 4,209,834 cubic feet was transferred during the move. NPRC marked the historic occasion with a center-wide lemon-lime soda toast on Nov. 16.

While the Reformatting staff of the National Archives at St. Louis may be best known for its work on the military records of Persons of Exceptional Prominence, many of its tasks lack such glamour. One project the staff recently began working on involves Air Force Flying Time Records. These microfiche sheets record the flying time of Air Force personnel from 1973 to 1998.

Each microfiche is made of one of three types of material: silver, vesicular, or diazo (see definitions here). Unfortunately, in the past they were all stored together, so the Reformatting staff is separating them out by the material used. Many of the silver fiche were stored without paper sleeves and subsequently stuck together, requiring the application of deionized water to separate them.

The silver “master copies” will be sent to NARA’s cold storage caves in Lenexa, Kansas. The vesicular and diazo “use copies” will stay here for researcher access.

The project involves more than 250,000 microfiche, filling up 25 cubic feet, and will last about three months. These records can help recreate and verify part of an airman’s service if his record was destroyed in the 1973 fire, since it is part of the same record group as that of airmen who served from 1912 to 1972.

The move is almost finished!

The National Personnel Records Center staff in St. Louis is almost finished with the multiyear-long move to our new building. As you read this, movers are hard at work at the Civilian Personnel Records building on Winnebago Street in South St. Louis.

Federal Records Center Director Scott Levins shot this photo inside CPR a few weeks ago. If you were a personnel record, wouldn’t you want to be moving from here, too?

“Hot Trends in Response and Recovery: 40 Years After the Fire” is the theme of NARA’s 27th annual Preservation Conference, set for June 27 at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the NPRC’s devastating fire, and it will be the first time the popular conference has been hosted outside the Washington, D.C., area. Featured topics will include risk assessment and disaster response. NARA staff will describe ongoing efforts to preserve fire-damaged records and the latest image recovery technologies. For information, visit