Preservation Lab at the National Archives, St. Louis as Shown on YouTube

If you would like to see how the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration restores and preserves old records, especially fire-damaged documents, you should watch a YouTube video.

The video even shows how the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) can scan and digitize fire-damaged documents that are blackened so much that the text is not readable by the human eye. The digitization process can actually read black text on black, fire-damaged paper.

NOTE: You may remember the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) had a huge fire on July 12, 1973. It was not until July 16, nearly four and a half days after the first reports, that the local fire department called the fire officially out. Millions of military records were damaged or destroyed by the fire, by water from the firefighting effort, and by mold after the file. You can read more at https://www.archives.gov/personnel-records-center/fire-1973.

The video is several years old but the information in it appears to still be current.

Here is the National Archives’ description of the video:

“Go behind-the-scenes to see NPRC’s new state-of-the-art preservation lab. In 1973 a fire in NPRC’s former building destroyed 18 million military personnel files. Six million more were recovered with varying degrees of fire and water damage. As individual files are requested, preservation technicians painstakingly treat the documents for damage and mold. Preservation officer Marta O’Neill and her staff demonstrate the arduous work required to preserve these permanent records of the United States. The preservation lab also treats archival microfilm, an extensive process shown in the video. In the digital section of the preservation lab, military personnel files of “Persons of Exceptional Prominence” are scanned and the images transferred to CDs. In this manner frequently requested records are removed from circulation and preserved, even as their contents are made available to the public. And in a startling display of digital technology, viewers see how text seemingly lost to fire damage can be restored to legibility.”

You can find the video at YouTube.com/watch/?v=2xNvAudiRwU or in the video player below:

2 Comments

My wife gained a copy of most of her fathers WWII records through the VA. The file was about 3 inches thick. Many people’s ancestors records were preserved because the VA requested a copy of their records before the VA fire in 1973. As well, the Navy records are preserved because they hadn’t transferred their records to St. Louise before the fire.

However, how does one request the archives do this research on their father, grandfather?
Also my wife’s father was a Navajo Codetalker in the Army. Not the Marines. I think he just took over, but none of this was in his VA record. He brought all the Code Books back from the War with himself. Along with Guns, a flamethrower and Bazooka. A lot of soldiers did.

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To Jeff, Your wife’s father was awesome. The Codetalkers did much to help win the war. I’m glad she was able to get his records. There is much to be proud of. A big thank you for his service. My father fought in the European Theater and was also with the Army of Occupation. I am very fortunate to still have him with me at age 97. The stories he can tell. Thank you for sharing.

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