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Letter From American History

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: February 19, 2013 
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Stolen Treasures

A hallmark of American democracy we tend to take for granted is that records kept by the government belong to the people. At the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and its satellite locations, the general public has access to millions of documents, maps, charts, photographs, reels of film and video or sound recordings. If you are a student re­searching a paper or an amateur genealogist sleuthing family roots, you are just as welcome at the archives as filmmaker Ken Burns, who made the chance discovery while digging through boxes of Civil War records that his great-great-grandfather Anthony Burns was a Confederate soldier.

But the fact that these records are available for each of us to see and touch has also attracted crooks. Items pilfered from the archives include the Wright brothers' airplane patent, maps for the bombing attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, telegrams sent by Abraham Lincoln to his battlefield generals and numerous presidential pardons. National Archives investigator Mitchell Yockelson says the helpful vigilance of history lovers is the best hope of recovering the missing treasures. "If you see a document for sale on eBay or at an antiques mall that looks like it belongs in a public archive or museum, please let us know," Yockelson says. Tips for spotting stolen documents are at and investigators can be reached at or 800-786-2551.

One Response to “Letter From American History”

  1. 1
    John Huerta says:

    There are many Historical Documents Missing Including Franklin D. Roosevelt's Second Inaugural Speech and The letter He had made For That Address.

    also What is Missing is the Numerous Documents Including Tickets to James A. Garfield's Inauguration in 1881 and Several Documents Abraham Lincoln Had made And Sent During The Civil War as well as Hundreds of Documents In Where Several People Were pardoned By U.S. presidents as well as Tockets to The Forst Inauguration of President George Washington in 1789.

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