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Military documents in non-federal historical archives

This topic contains 3 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Carolyn Schimandle 3 weeks, 3 days ago.

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  • #139549

    Carolyn Schimandle

    Our county parks department historical archives include military papers from a person connected to one of the historic sites. This individual had top secret clearance. The papers are military orders from the 1950s. I have two questions: 1) Since we are not a federal agency we aren’t required to provide these to anyone via a Freedom of Information Act request, right? 2) Should we try to contact the military and see if there is any classified information in them before making them available to the public? Should we just assume they might be sensitive and not make them available at all? I’ve checked both Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives and A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections and not found anything that applies to this situation.

  • #139557


    Per Susan Barger,
    “A friend who worked in the National Archives (NARA) once retrieved a packet of documents about my grandfather from 1914 and the packet was marked secret, secret, secret and I had to wait several hours for it to be determined that there was nothing that was still secret in those documents – it was somewhat unnerving.”

    NARA has a really great FAQ for folks who find documents like these in their repositories at

  • #139558

    Jeannie Whited

    The link provided above is indeed very good. I will also add that it’s unlikely the documents contain classified information. Typically people with Top Secret clearances are very conscientious about proper handling of materials. Also, at that age, they are 99.9% likely to have been automatically declassified. So there is strong reason to default to “make available” instead of “deny access.” I’d definitely suggest talking to the NARA folks prior to opening a formal declassification review.

    And you’re quite right, FOIA only applies to federal agencies. If someone wants to FOIA this information, they should file with the appropriate branch of service. On the other hand, if it could be retreived via FOIA (or even just an archives search), why not make it public and spare your requestor a lot of hassle?

  • #139562

    Carolyn Schimandle

    Thank you! That is exactly the information we needed.

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