Counting the Records

The JFK Assassination Records Collection at the National Archives and Records Administraion (NARA) was created using a vast range of sources. Items in the collection come from the U.S. federal government, state governments, local governments, foreign governments, and private citizens. The different categories of items in the Collection are also extremely diverse and complicated. As a result, figuring out how many “records” are in the Collection is not a simple task.

Artifacts versus records

One problem in counting collection items is that the line between “records” and “evidence” is somewhat blurry. The first collection of items relating to the JFK assassination was assembled by the Warren Commission. This collection included all the physical evidence of the case, such as the gun that Lee Harvey Oswald used to shoot the president, bullet fragments recovered from the presidential limousine, the clothes President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy were wearing that day, and so on.

Strictly speaking, these are artifacts, not records. Many of these artifacts are referred to as “Commission Exhibits” because of their use in the Warren Commission’s report. Some items were acquired later, however, such as the dress Mrs. Kennedy was wearing when the President was shot. This was donated to the National Archives by Mrs. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline in 2003. Finding a complete listing of these assassination artifacts is a complicated task that I won’t go into here.

Audio-visual materials

Another complicated problem is finding a complete list of all the audio-visual material relating to the assassination. This includes items such as the famous Zapruder film, an 8mm file which recorded the shooting of President Kennedy, tapes of the radio conversations between Air Force One and various military units and agencies as it flew back to Wasington D.C. carrying the new President and the coffin of the slain President, and photographs of pre-assassination and post-assassination events and figures.

Some of these items are indeed registered in various lists at the National Archives, but finding a complete list of audio-visual materials is, if anything, an even more complicated task than finding a complete list of assassination artifacts held by the National Archives, and I won’t go into it here, either.

Documents and registers

The vast majority of the records are documents produced by, and obtained from, federal agencies. It is not easy, however, to say exactly how many records are in the collection, or which agency they came from.

all of the documents and items found in searches at the Paine residence where Oswald stored his few possessions

The Commission not only produced a huge amount of documents on its own, it collected many documents from other government agencies involved in the assassination investigation. It also

The most convenient register of ARC records is the Assassination Collection Reference System (ACRS; as of October 2020 this is off-line for maintenance). This is NOT a complete list of the contents of the Collection, but it does