Guide to NARA Collection

Social Security Textual Records in NARA II

Foreword to the NARA Guide

In 1969, the first SSA Historian, Abe Bortz, published a ground-breaking book entitled "Social Security Sources in Federal Records, 1934-1950." This was the first in-depth guide to the contents of the Social Security records held by the National Archives. In 1976, Debra L. Newman compiled for NARA their "preliminary inventory" of Social Security's records, under the title "Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Social Security Administration," and known in short as PI-183. These two documents remain the only systematic efforts to inventory the Social Security-related records at NARA.

The records of the Social Security Administration (and its predecessor organizations) are contained mainly in what NARA calls "Record Group 47" (RG-47). Both the Bortz guide and the Newman compilation sought to serve as "finding aids" to assist researchers in locating material in the vast collection of documents which is RG-47. Not only did the Bortz guide provide a list of the RG-47 holdings, it provided descriptions for many of the boxes and folders in the collection. A similar, less-detailed and less-comprehensive, set of descriptions were also included in PI-183.

For many years, these two documents served as the key research aids for scholars. In recent years, however, both guides have become less and less accurate, to the point where they are no longer of much practical use as finding aids for RG-47. This happened for several, unavoidable, reasons. In 1994 NARA moved from its earlier Washington, D.C. location to a new facility in suburban College Park, Maryland (known as NARA II). Coincident with this move, NARA reorganized its collections, meaning that materials were no longer in the same locations as they had been at the time the earlier works were written. Also, material that had been in large Records Boxes at the time of the earlier surveys had subsequently been refoldered in smaller Archives Boxes, throwing the numbering scheme off for these boxes. Thousands of boxes of new material have also been accessioned to NARA since Bortz and Newman wrote their guides.

At SSA we have received numerous requests to update these documents, especially the Bortz guide since it was an SSA publication. The suggestion that we update Abe Bortz's classic guide to NARA's Social Security archives has been made most persistently by Professor Edward Berkowitz, of the Department of History at George Washington University. Shortly after I assumed the position of SSA Historian in early 1995, Professor Berkowitz approached me and generously offered his advice and counsel on how we might reinvigorate the history program at SSA. His first suggestion was an update to the Bortz guide. Although I never doubted the sagacity of his suggestion, it has taken us some time to get around to turning his counsel into a viable project. We are happy to be able to finally produce the updated guide to NARA's Social Security records which Professor Berkowitz and others have long sought.

This project finally became feasible due to the availability of Ms. Kristen Taynor--of the Department of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County--to work on this project. During the summer of 2003 Ms. Taynor completed an internship here at SSA as part of her coursework for a graduate degree in public history. Her internship project was to spent the summer at NARA producing an updated inventory of RG-47. The size and scope of this effort seemed daunting, if not overwhelming, at first. The Social Security collection consists of over 5,000 boxes of textual materials. But thanks to Kristen's persistence, her intellectual skills, and her willingness to work hard, she was able to complete what seemed (to me at least) almost an impossible task.

This project was facilitated by Tab Lewis, the Archivist for RG-47 at the National Archives, who tutored us in the usage of NARA's finding aids and in the records process. It was also aided importantly by Ann Cummings, who is the Branch Chief at NARA with oversight of this area. Ann arranged our access and for the various forms of logistical support needed to carry out this work. We could not have done this work without the help of Tab and Ann. We wish to express our gratitude to both of them for their assistance on all fronts.

We hope this newly updated, expanded, and more comprehensive guide to RG-47 will again serve as a useful finding aid for scholars interested in the rich history of Social Security.

SSA Historian