A brick building in a residential area called East Point, near Fort McPherson, is home to a secret. Most people who live in the area have no clue it's there. And those who are in the know can't tell you where to find the building. But once you arrive, you'll find a stash of 80,000 cubic feet of historical records at the National Archives-Southeast Region. Just make sure you get explicit directions before hopping in the car.
Besides copies of the 1930 census rolls, you'll find textual documents pertaining to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
One of the most popular draws is the collection of all the original World War I draft registration cards. A 4- by 6-inch card is on file for anyone born between 1873 and 1900 who registered for the draft in 1917 and 1918.
Roger Miller, who handles the reception desk, cheerfully rounded up nearly two dozen cardboard boxes of cards for me pertaining to two Pennsylvania counties. Cards are filed separately according to the location in the county where the person registered. Don't know the precise place? You'll have to paw through cards for the entire county. Fortunately they're in alphabetical order. (Request copies by mail for $10 each. E-mail centeratlanta.nara.gov for a request form. Takes about 10 days.)
The records comprise an interesting mix. IRS returns and federal court cases share space with bankruptcy records from 1868 to 1876, filed by those who lost everything in the aftermath of the Civil War. The oldest document is probably a 1716 admiralty court case.
Selected records pertaining to Civil War prisoners confined to Andersonville, Ga.; applications from former Confederate soldiers for presidential pardons; an index to Confederate service records; and some Revolutionary War records may interest anyone researching in the Southeast.
Even if your ancestors hailed from above the Mason-Dixon Line, there's something for you. Census rolls, nonpopulation census data like agricultural and manufacturing records, passenger list indexes, border entries and passport applications from various locales are available. Go to www.archives.gov/ facilities/ga/atlanta.html for more information. (Note: The Web site address has changed. So has the main NARA site. It's now www.archives.gov.)
What you won't find are state and county records. No real estate records either. And the staff doesn't do credit checks. NARA maintains only records created by federal agencies.
Archives staffers are knowledgeable, helpful and willing to answer questions and handle specific requests. They don't conduct extensive research for individuals.
Need copies? Make them yourself for 15 cents apiece, or if you know what you want, order copies of textual records by mail for about $10 each. Copies of microfilmed records are not available by mail.
To get the most from your trip, make an appointment about a week in advance to let the staff know what records you seek and to reserve a microfilm viewer. The center is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays for microfilm research only.
Consider planning your trip to coincide with one of the workshops NARA hosts each year. Two workshops are planned before the end of the year. Sept. 21 is a beginning/intermediate workshop on African-American genealogy, and a beginning genealogy workshop is planned for Nov. 16. The cost is $15 per person. For more information, e-mail Charles Reeves at charles.reevesnara.gov or write to NARA, Southeast Region, 1557 St. Joseph Ave., East Point, GA 30344 or phone (404) 763-7065.
The History & Genealogy Department of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System now has all available 1930 Soundex indexes on hand. This includes all of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, plus the partial Soundexes for Kentucky and West Virginia.
Donna Murray Allen responds to questions of general interest in her columns. Write to her c/o Floridian, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at rootscolumnyahoo.com. Read her column online at www.sptimes.com.