The US Navy Z Files are located in the Navy Department Library's Rare Book Room. Originally, they were in the custody of the Office of Naval Records and Library after that organization's other early record holdings were accessioned by the US National Archives and Records Administration in 1942. For many years, the Z Files were physically located at an office provided by the National Archives for the Navy's Early Records Section. In 1972, the Z Files were relocated to the Operational Archives Branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command on the Washington Navy Yard. In 2002, these records were transferred to the Navy Department Library.
These files have been accumulated over a period of many years by the Naval History and Heritage Command and its predecessor offices to provide historical information to US Navy personnel and other researchers, both official and unofficial. A large portion of the material consists of Office of Naval Records and Library and Naval History Division correspondence, forwarding the results of research in archival and published materials. Intermixed with these letters are numerous historic documents and manuscripts (both originals and copies) that were acquired from a variety of sources. Original and photocopied documents and journal articles continue to be added to these files.
The Z Files are particularly notable for biographical coverage of 19th century naval officers. However, many other aspects of early naval history are documented in the files.
Z File materials are unavailable for loan and must be consulted in the library. Photocopying of manuscripts, as well as fragile items, is generally prohibited, though the use of digital cameras by researchers to reproduce non-copyrighted materials is permitted. Permission to photocopy a few pages may be granted by the reference staff, contingent upon the physical state of items. All photocopying of materials shall be done by the reference staff, or under their close supervision. The use of personal scanners by non-library staff personnel must be approved by the reference staff on a document-by-document basis (Reference: Naval History and Heritage Command Instruction [NAVHISTCENTINST]5070.1C.).
Z Files (Historical Reference) Series
This series contains various documents and ephemera pertaining to US naval officers and some civilians, especially those serving during the 19th century. Coverage of a number of outstanding officers of the late 18th and early 20th centuries, as well as some enlisted personnel, also is provided. It is estimated that the careers of 35,000 separate individuals are documented to some extent in these files.
The contents of individual files can include such items as: (1) compiled service chronologies; (2) biographical summaries; (3) service data cards (Civil War period); (4) letters of recommendation for appointment or promotion; (5) pay vouchers (Civil War period); (6) fragmentary personal and official letters; (7) official Office of Naval Records and Library, and Naval History Division correspondence providing information on specific officers. The contents of individual files range from extensive to sparse, sometimes only containing a single piece of paper.
This series comprises material relating predominantly to 19th century ships of the US Navy. Data on a few Revolutionary, Confederate, and private ships also are found, as are some files on 20th century ships.
Examples of the types of materials in individual files include: (1) brief ship histories; (2) movement reports; (3) newspaperand magazine articles; (4) official Office of Naval Records and Library, and Naval History Division correspondence relating to the history of the ship. Twentieth century material in this collection includes items such as commissioning brochures and welcome aboard pamphlets.
The arrangement is alphabetical according to ship names.
This series furnishes data on naval facilities and other geographic locations. Among the material in individual files are: (1) official Office of Naval Records and Library, and Naval History Division correspondence and reports; (2) newspaper and magazine articles; (3) cross-reference sheets to records in Record Groups 45 and 80 at the National Archives.
The arrangement is alphabetical according to geographic location.
This series contains documentation pertaining to operations of the US Navy throughout its history before World War II. A few files provide information on squadrons, peacetime cruises, and scientific expeditions.
Examples of the types of records in this file are: (1) official Office of Naval Records and Library, and Naval History Division reports and correspondence; (2) manuscripts items; (3) copies of material found in other depositories; (4) newspaper and magazine articles; (5) cross-reference sheets to records in Record Groups 45 and 80 at the National Archives.
This series contains correspondence, finding aids, and reference material relating to records and manuscripts that now are part of Record Group 45 and other holdings at the National Archives. The materials were originated and prepared by the former Archives Section of the Office of Naval Records and Library. Also included are folders of correspondence pertaining to documents that were loaned to various individuals and institutions, as well as miscellaneous copies and receipts.
This series is a subject file for documentation not categorized under other file series. Among the contents are: (1) official Office of Naval Records and Library, and Naval History Division correspondence and reports; (2) manuscripts; (3) copies of material found in other depositories; (4) newspaper and magazine articles;(5) cross-reference sheets to records in Record Group 45 and 80 at the National Archives.
The arrangement is alphabetical according to subject.