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.

Today in 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis near Paris, completing the first solo airplane crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 33.5 hours.

That same year, Pan American World Airways, Inc. began its services when the airline, founded by Juan Trippe, chartered a small seaplane to carry mail from Key West, Florida, to Havana, Cuba.

A few months later, in January 1928, Pan Am took its first fare-paying passengers over this route, a journey of 90 miles that lasted one hour and ten minutes. The same year, Trippe engaged the services of Charles A. Lindbergh and the famed American aviator served as a technical advisor on Pan Am’s Board of Directors for the next 41 years.

From its founding in 1927 through its closing in 1991, Pan Am was a pioneer in the development of aviation equipment, air routes, commercial passenger service, navigation techniques, and communication systems.

The University of Miami holds the airline’s archives, some 1500 boxes of administrative, legal, financial, technical, and promotional materials as well as internal publications, photographs, audiovisual material and graphic material form this vast resource.

Recently, National Historical Publications and Records Commission (part of the National Archives) funded a project to catalog this material.

Image: Photograph of Charles Lindbergh and The Spirit of St. Louis after Landing in Paris, 1927. National Archives.


PEP (Persons of Exceptional Prominence) Spot Light:  Lieutenant (JG) Harriet Pickens (1909-1969) & Ensign Frances Wills (1916-1998)

In honor of African American Women’s History Month, we are highlighting the first two African American women who were commissioned as officers in the US Navy.  Lieutenant Pickens and Ensign Wills were commissioned in the United States Navy on December 21, 1944.

Lieutenant Harriet Pickens, a public health administrator with a master’s degree in Political Science from Columbia University, was the daughter of William Pickens, one of the founders of the NAACP.  Prior to her military service, Harriet was the Executive Secretary of the Harlem Tuberculosis and Health Committee of the New York Tuberculosis and Health Association.  In addition to this position, she was a supervisor of recreation programs in the New Deal’s WPA (Works Project Administration). 

Ensign Frances Wills was a native of Philadelphia and graduate of Hunter College.  While Frances pursued her MA in Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, she worked with famed African American poet, Langston Hughes.  She worked in an adoption agency, placing children in adoptive homes.   Her experiences as a pioneering naval officer led Frances to eventually write the book Navy Blue and Other Colors under her married name, Frances Wills Thorpe.

Obviously, these were two accomplished and well educated women, highly qualified to serve their country as military officers in time of war.  It was only their race that stood in their way and the remarkable pair would help to tear that barrier down.  They were sworn in as apprentice seamen in the US Navy in November 1944. 

After receiving their commissions a month later, both Harriet and Frances serviced at the Hunter Naval Training Station in Bronx, NY, the main training facility for enlisted WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) recruits.  Harriet Pickens led physical training sessions up until her death in 1969 at the age of 60.  Frances Wills taught naval history and administered classification tests.  She died in 1998.

Lieutenant Pickens’ and Ensign Wills’ military files are two of the records in our PEPs (Persons of Exceptional Prominence) collection at the National Archives at St. Louis. Due to the high volume of attention and research on their military career, Lieutenant Pickens and Ensign Wills’ record was placed in the PEP collection and digitally copied. The Preservation Programs at St. Louis treats and stabilizes PEP records by placing the documents in polyester film sleeves, removing fasteners and staples and undertaking any required repair actions that will extend the life of the documents. An entire record is then scanned and placed on DVDs so researchers can access exact replicas, thus preventing damage to the original documents.

We are proud to highlight the lives and achievements of these two courageous women who in the face of segregation and hatred overcame and changed the face of the United States Navy forever.

The Wonder Sponge: And We are Not Talking about SpongeBob SquarePants

A popular tool in our St. Louis Paper Lab for cleaning mold from records is our foamed natural rubber sponge erasers. Every work station has a pile of them! These soft erasers do wonders in cleaning mold from the paper’s surface. The erasers come in “brick” sizes and are easily trimmed down into smaller pieces which are held more easily in your hand. But an important word of caution! Although softer than hard erasers these can still be abrasive, and can cause damage if used on paper surfaces that are soft and friable due to more extensive damage.

Preservation of Frank Capra’s movie, “The Negro Soldier”.  A look at the preservation process from beginning to end.

We’re #thankful that our work gives us opportunities to help our fellow citizens! 

 John Joseph Scala is an 88-year-old Korean War veteran. He contacted the National Archives at St. Louis for help in getting medals he earned while in service. Our staff was able to verify the awards and order replacements to be issued by the Army. Mr. Scala sent us this photo of himself proudly wearing his medals, and we are honored to have helped him.


What is Preservation Programs doing with a Burned Record, a Customized Camera, and a WEBER Grill? 

               The burned record bays at Archives Drive facility in St. Louis are home to the ‘B-files’.   These are OMPF records that were recovered from the devastating 1973 fire, when the entire 6th floor of the Page Avenue facility burned destroying some 18 million individual serviceman’s records.  Approximately 6.5 million records were recovered.  Given the variety of conditions present on these documents, a number of preservation actions (e.g., mold remediation, repair, flattening or other stabilization) are required before releasing these records for reference. Unfortunately many, like this example, are too damaged to yield information and will deteriorate rapidly in the case of further handling.


For several years Preservation Programs in St. Louis has tested IR photographic methods to ‘see through’ charred and mold-stained paper and recover information with the idea that digitized versions will best accomplish access for this subset of highly damaged records.  Our testing led to the development of a customized camera system, by Digital Transitions, a photographic technology vendor that specializes in cultural heritage imaging. The examples above are successive shots directly from the camera prototype, with no manipulation (except cropping and redaction).  An internal filter wheel (at very bottom of illustration 4) can be rotated to select bandwidth sensitivity between visible light and two infrared ranges. In addition, the lens turret has been modified to include focus stops (illustrated in orange) to allow operators to rapidly and accurately adapt focus between taking successive shots of visible and IR.

While testing the prototype camera, Digital Transitions created simulated burned records by wrapping a dictionary in aluminum foil and grilling it in a barbeque grill. It turns out that creating char without completely consuming paper is not as easy as it might seem.  

Significant challenges and work remain in the areas of:  a) identifying the best candidates for digitization, b) developing special document handling methods during photography for those fused, blocked, moldy, highly burned, brittle or otherwise heavily damaged documents, and c) integrating these images of damaged records into the archival and reference workflows.

A Date That Will Live in Infamy

Archival Research Room Supervisor Eric Kilgore from the National Archives-St. Louis traveled to Hawaii this week to present copies of original service records to the families of Clarendon Hetrick and John Anderson. Hetrick and Anderson were both crewmen on board the USS Arizona when it was attacked on this day, 75 years ago.

John Anderson and his brother Delbert were both servicemen on board the ship, but Delbert Anderson perished during the attack. Both John Anderson and Clarendon Hetrick passed away earlier this year, and their ashes will be placed within the USS Arizona Memorial in a ceremony today. This is a page from John Anderson’s service record. It was digitized from microfilm to by a preservation specialist within the St. Louis Preservation Department

Rest in peace, gentlemen, and thank you for your service.

Did your ancestors work on the construction of the Panama Canal? The records of these workers are a rich resource for genealogists.

All personnel records for the Panama Canal are a part of RG 185 Records of the Panama Canal, and are located at the National Archives at St. Louis​.

The records may provide a lot of genealogical information such as the age, place of birth, parent’s names, occupation, and whether the employee was single or married.

To learn more about what records we hold, how to use them, and what you will find, check out the first “how-to” post on “Rediscovering Black History”:

Image: Placing granite in the hollow quoin. Dry Dock No. 1, Balboa, June 21, 1915. National Archives Local Identifier 185-HR-4-26J164.


PEP (Persons of Exceptional Prominence) Spot Light:  Pvt. Charles Addams  (January 7, 1912 – September 29, 1988)

                         “They’re creepy and they’re kooky,
                          Mysterious and spooky,
                          They’re all together ooky,
                          The Addams Family.”

In honor of this All Hollows’ Eve, we are going shine a ghoulish spotlight on the creator of one of the most eccentric cartoon, television, and motion picture families of the mid to late 20th century…The Addams Family.  Pvt. Charles Addams, a free lance cartoonist from The New Yorker Magazine was inducted into the army on December 29, 1942 at Newark, New Jersey and serviced his country through his animated talents until February 7, 1946.  He spent his service time at the Signal Corps Photographic Center in Long Island, New York.  During his service, Pvt. Addams created animated training films for the U.S. Army.  In a letter of accommodation from W. H. Harrison, Major General of the U.S. Army, he stated “Your work on the creation of “Harrison’s APS” was not only enjoyed but appreciated by all of us.  Such results could only come from real imagination and work and I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your efforts; the results of which will adorn the walls of generations of Harrison’s to come.”  After his service, Charles Addams’ “The Addams Family” became part of the American persona.

Pvt Charles Addams’ military records are in our PEP (Persons of Exceptional Prominence) collection at the National Archives at St. Louis. Due to the high volume of attention and research on his military career, Pvt. Addams’ record was placed in the PEP collection and digitally copied. The Preservation Programs at St. Louis treats and stabilizes PEP records by placing the documents in polyester film sleeves, removing fasteners and staples and undertaking any required repair actions that will extend the life of the documents. An entire record is then scanned and placed on DVDs so researchers can access exact replicas, thus preventing damage to the original documents.

If Charles Addams had met his created character, Gomez Addams in real life, we believe that Gomez would have said…

“We danced the Mamushka while Nero fiddled, we danced the Mamushka at Waterloo, We danced the Manushka for Jack the Ripper, and now, Charles Addams, this Mamushka is for you.”
Veterans Personnel Records at the National Archives, St. Louis
This Inside the Vaults video short illustrates the primary purpose of the National Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO — to preserve the natio...

The National Archives is proud to serve our veterans and their families. The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis responds to over 1.4 million requests annually–4,000 to 5,000 requests per day–for copies of military personnel and medical records.

Our goal is to respond as quickly as possible so that veterans and their families can get the information they need to qualify for benefits.

Most of these records are paper documents and not online. Learn how our staff tackle this huge–and hugely important job–in this short video.


Today marks the 70th anniversary of the deactivation of the WASP program.

Elizabeth “Betty” Maxine Chambers was a young mother and a widow. Betty’s husband, Army pilot Lieutenant Robert William Chambers, died in 1942 when his P-38F Lightening aircraft crashed at Mills Field in San Mateo, California.

Undaunted, Betty applied to be among the first female pilots in the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. This innovative civilian program was designed to employ women to ferry wartime aircraft, serve as flight instructors, tow targets for live anti-aircraft practice, transport cargo, and fly experimental aircraft. These female pilots relieved men from domestic duties so they could fight overseas in the war.

The women were trained as rigorously as military pilots and were paid at a rate of $1,800 per year. Successful trainees were be stationed at one of 120 air bases, paid $3,000 per year, and reclassified as civilian pilots.

Like the majority of her fellow pilots, Betty Chambers received her training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. After training, Betty was sent to Turner Field in Albany, Georgia, then attended the Army Air Force Tactical School in Orlando, Florida. She was later stationed at Greenwood Army Air Field in Greenwood, Mississippi.

As male pilots returned from wartime service, WASP members in service at the end of 1944 were forced to resign.Men wanted to fly domestically and the country wanted women back at home to take care of their families.

Betty Chambers was among the  women whose service ended when the WASP program was disbanded.

On November 2, 1977, President Jimmy Carter passed Public Law 95-202, which granted military veteran status to all who served under the WASP program. In 2009, the highest medal awarded to civilians—the Congressional Gold Medal—was bestowed upon the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Betty’s photograph (seen here) comes from her official personnel folders (OPFs).The National Archives at St. Louis maintains the civilian WASP (OPFs).

The administrative paperwork in these files reveals story after story of WASP adventures and history. OPFs are open to the public and photocopies of OPFs can be obtained for a fee. Please visit for more information.

 Elizabeth ​"Betty" Maxine Chambers, WASP Class of 44-W-3, from her OPF, National Archives in St. Louis.

Telegram from Jacqueline Cochran summoning Elizabeth Chambers to WASP duty, from her OPF, National Archives in St. Louis.

How to Stop a Possible Silverfish Infestation

         A possible silverfish infestation was discovered at 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO, in the first shipment of newly-accessioned records, numbering 1200 cubic feet. These records were received from a military facility located in Florida, and were due to be shelved.

        The key to catching this potential infestation was identifying the problem, and quickly contacting the correct people. Five Archives students were preparing the records to be moved into the storage area when they noticed the insects - white, multi-legged bugs that wriggled and moved fast. The students contacted their project lead who contacted representatives of the Archival and Preservation staff to check out the situation. On initial inspection, no insects were observed, but the students were instructed to use sticky tape and baggies for catching a live specimen if they were seen again. 15 minutes later, a live specimen was delivered to Preservation, still wiggling while stuck to the tape. It was identified as a silverfish (specifically Lepisma saccharina), which are known to be fond of items containing starch, such as paper. They damage paper by scraping the surface with their mandibles, leaving irregular-shaped holes. Through on-line research, it was decided the best approach to mitigate a silverfish infestation was to blast freeze these records – silverfish and their eggs prefer warm, moist environments typical of the Florida climates. Recommendations were made to the Preservation Officer and the Director at St. Louis for options on freezing the remaining 2900 cubic feet of records not yet shipped. Given the number of boxes, a government Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) for emergency recovery services was enacted and a task order for blast freezing the boxes was created. This involved a series of emails and telephone calls from all NARA departments involved in order to invoke the contract and select Polygon Group (Illinois), a provider with the means necessary for the blast freezing process. By the end of the next day, the order was placed and the boxes were pulled from the shelves, re-palletized, and shrink-wrapped for shipping. The following morning, the records were loaded on a truck and left St. Louis, at approximately 11 a.m.

               The clear and continual communication between all parties was crucial in getting this potential infestation under control quickly. Instead of ignoring the insects, the archival students took the initiative to contact someone who knew the next step to take.  As a result, these records will be properly treated, and our building will remain pest free.

Our annual virtual Genealogy Fair is October 21 and 22!

Join us live on YouTube or follow along on Twitter (#genfair2015) to learn how to research your family’s history! 

Day 1: Wednesday, October 21 

Session 1 at 10 a.m. ET
Introduction to Genealogy at the National Archives by Claire Kluskens. 

Session 2 at 11 a.m. ET
Preserving Your Family Records:  Conversation and Questions by Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler. 

Session 3 at 12 p.m. ET
Personnel Records of the National Archives–St. Louis, by Bryan K. McGraw. 

Session 4 at 1 p.m. ET
It’s in the Cards: Finding Family Members in National Archives–St. Louis’ Card Series by Daria Labinsky & David Hardin. 

Session 5 at 2 p.m. ET
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Personnel Records by Ashley Mattingly. 

Day 2: Thursday, October 22

Session 6 at 10 a.m. ET
Where’d They Go?  Finding Ancestral Migration Routes by Jean Nudd. 

Session 7 at 11 a.m. ET
Access to Archival Databases (AAD): Looking Down, From Above, to Look it Up!  by John LeGloahec. 

Session 8 at 12 p.m. ET
Finding Your World War I Veteran at the National Archives at St. Louis by Theresa Fitzgerald. 

Session 9 at 1 p.m. ET
Women in War Time Civilian Government Employment by Cara Moore.

Session 10 at 2 p.m. ET
Broke, But Not Out of Luck: Exploring Bankruptcy Records for Genealogy Research by Jessica Hopkins. 


It’s the end of the week! Here’s a peek at what our staff in the Paper Lab at the National Archives at St. Louis did this week: mold remediation.

Mold is one of an archivist’s arch-enemies! The staff do lots of mold remediation to make the records safe to handle.

Working with mold means you need protection, and so Steve is getting ready to work with gloves on, mask on, and coat at hand (folded up on the bench next to him).

See more of their work from this week over on Twitter at @ThisIsArchives.


Today is International Archives Day! Across the globe, our colleagues are working to preserve your history.

Here are two of our favorite images that show the importance of archives for everyday citizens.


The 12th Armored Association met at the National Archives at St. Louis  for their 67th annual reunion in 2013. Veterans of this famed World War II division came to the National Personnel Records Center for a tour of the facilities. Preservation staff met with the vets and their families to explain the work being done to treat records damaged in the 1973 fire.

Preservation staff also explained how they treat records salvaged from the USS Arizona. Mike Pierce, in the white coat, explained the unique damage that occurred to the personnel records on board the Arizona as a result of the attack.

Image and text via the To order a military record, go to:

Civil Rights

For many years, Edith Lee-Payne had no idea that her photograph was in the National Archives–or that she was one of the most iconic faces of the March on Washington.

In August of 2013, she saw her own face on display for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. “I’ve been in history all these years,“ declared Edith Lee-Payne after seeing the photograph taken by Rowland Scherman.

You can learn more about her story in our blog ( and in a video ( )


Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra 5/12/1925 - 9/22/2015

In memory of baseball icon Yogi Berra, our colleagues at the National Archives-St. Louis have shared his World War II and post-World War II-era selective service registration cards (DSS Form 1 and SSS Form 1). The registration cards were created to identify registrants, and to document the order registrants would be called to military service. Yogi’s WWII-era registration show that he was playing for the Norfolk Tars, a farm team for the New York Yankees, and his post-war registration card shows that he had made the big leagues and was playing for the Yankees. His post-war registration also shows his prior WWII service, as Yogi had served in the Navy from 9/30/1943-5/7/1946.

  • Selective Service DSS Form 1 for Lawrence Peter Berra, May 12, 1943; Selective Service System. Missouri State Headquarters. 1940-1975, Record Group 147, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration; National Archives at St. Louis, St. Louis, MO.
  • Selective Service SSS Form 1 for Lawrence Peter Berra, September 7, 1948; Selective Service System. Missouri State Headquarters. 1940-1975, Record Group 147, Records of the Nation Archives and Records Administration; National Archives at St. Louis, St. Louis, MO.

Today’s post comes courtesy of David Hardin of Research Services at the National Archives - St. Louis. 

To learn more about the Selective Service records at the National Archives- St. Louis please watch David Hardin’s presentation from last year’s Virtual Genealogy Fair (starting at roughly 1:15:00):

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!”


Ever wonder what the Preservation Programs at St. Louis does?…Watch this!!!

PEP (Person of Exceptional Prominence) Spot Light:  Cpt. Mary T. Klinker (October 3, 1947 – April 4, 1975)

Mary Klinker served in the Air Force as a flight nurse, instructor, and flight examiner from 1969 to 1975.

In 1974, the Vietnam War was ending and in an act of pure humanity, President Gerald Ford announced a mission that would be known as “Operation Babylift.” This mission’s purpose was to evacuate more than 2000 orphaned children from Saigon. Capt. Mary T. Klinker was enlisted as a flight nurse responsible for caring for the children during their transport to the Philippines.

Unfortunately, on April 4, 1975, the inaugural Operation Babylift flight ended in tragedy crashing within minutes of takeoff killing 138 of the 314 on board.  The flight crew, caregivers, and infants died in the Operation Babylift plane crash including Capt. Mary T. Klinker.

Capt. Klinker was 27-years-old when she died and was the last nurse and only member of the US Air Force Nurse Corps to be killed in Vietnam. She was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal for Heroism and the Meritorious Service Medal.

Capt. Klinker’s military file is one of the records in our PEPs (Persons of Exceptional Prominence) collection at the National Archives at St. Louis. Due to the high volume of attention and research on her military career, Cpt. Klinker’s record was placed in the PEP collection and digitally copied. The Preservation Programs at St. Louis treats and stabilizes PEP records by placing the documents in polyester film sleeves, removing fasteners and staples and undertaking any required repair actions that will extend the life of the documents. An entire record is then scanned and placed on DVDs so researchers can access exact replicas, thus preventing damage to the original documents.

As we continue to protect and preserve these important military records, it reminds us that Memorial Day is not just the “beginning of the summer holiday season”, but  a time to reflect on the lives of men and woman of our armed forces who willingly gave up their lives for our freedom and the freedom of others around the world.