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Archival research guide

What to Expect when Visiting an Archives

  • Closed stacks.  The Archives staff will retrieve material for you.
  • Supervised reading rooms.
  • Rules about proper handling of material.
  • Only pencils can be used for note taking.
  • Some materials may have restrictions on their use.
  • Materials must be used on-site.  They can not be borrowed.
  • Generally researchers complete a registration form before conducting research.

Planning your Archival Research

Before entering an Archives it is generally a good idea to conduct some background research on your subject.  This will help to provide a context for the material consulted in the Archives and will also help to determine key players and important dates.

Once you have done some background research, you will need to determine which Archives hold relevant collections for your subject. Think about the subject area and the people and institutions involved. Think about what documents would have likely been created and who would have produced them. Then think about what repository or archives might hold appropriate materials.

It is generally a good idea to contact the Archives before your initial visit. The Archives will most likely be able to give you an idea of the type of information they have that may be relevant to your research, as well as the amount of material you might want to consult.  This will help you to plan your visit accordingly.

Archives Vocabulary

Fonds - A group of documents originally created and/or accumulated and used by a particular person, family, or corporate body. Also known as a manuscript group or a record group.

Finding Aid - A guide used to establish intellectual control over records and are used to lead archives staff and users to the information they are seeking.

Provenance - Archival principle that stipulates that the records of a person or corporate body should be kept together and not mixed or combined with the records of another person or corporate body.

Original Order - The order in which records were kept when in active use.


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