On a recent family trip to Northern California, I was able to spend a day at The National Archives at San Francisco. NARA is actually in San Bruno, just south of the city (a suburb of the city really?) but it was easy to find and parking was readily available, which is always something that stresses me out when I'm in an unfamiliar place.
Right now, only two people can research on any given day at NARA and you have to make an appointment in advance. I was able to get a time about four weeks prior to our vacation but I didn't have a lot of wiggle room. In fact, it was a really inconvenient day for me to go and I was a little slow getting down there because we had just arrived late the night before.
In preparation for my research appointment, a staff member contacted me and pulled files so everything would be ready for me. The people who help you are there to give you access and help you with the files, but they don't help you with the actual research so you do need to know what you're looking for. Luckily, I knew exactly what I was after.
A while back, my aunt was able to go down to NARA and get photocopies of a number of pages that had to do with her parents' immigration to the United States from China. Although it was amazing to get the files she shared with me, I knew I wanted to go to NARA myself and get some higher quality images in color.
I also scanned some pages that she hadn't copied (or hadn't shared with me). They included papers that dealt with paper sons that aren't biologically related to our family. Although the focus of those files isn't someone I would include in my family tree, the papers had statements and photographs from my great-great-grandfather (who was purporting to be his father/sponsor).
I didn't get anything else beyond that. I'm sure that there are other papers somewhere in NARA that hold information for my family, but I'll need to do more research on my own before I can come back with a request to have them pull more pages. I am looking forward to my next visit, though, because the staff was great and it was thrilling to actually be handling those pages in person.
/// I took a laptop, scanner, power cord, and a USB flash driveto create a backup on-site. They have equipment available but you have to pay for it and you'll spend research time trying to orient yourself to new tech so if you have a portable scanner you like, I'd just take that. This is the photo scanner I took and the laptop I use and the USB flash drives I buy in bulk.
/// I took my family tree notebook and pens of choice so I could take notes as they came to me but I couldn't take those into the research area so there was no reason to cart them along. It would have made more sense to just take my digital notebook on my iPad with my Apple pencil.
/// There are places nearby where you can grab food but you need to leave to eat and drink. I stepped out for a moment to take some medicine but other than that, I stayed the whole time. The other person researching that day took a lunch break and left all of her items behind because there's always a staff member there keeping an eye on everything.