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Getting your hands on archival gold

An introduction to using archives for family historians, presented on May 4th, 2013, at a one-day conference organized by the Toronto branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.

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Getting your hands on archival gold

  1. 1. Getting your handson archival goldAmanda HillArchives Association of Ontario
  3. 3. • Not everything is online• Archives and library staff have in-depthknowledge of sources and subject• They are (usually!) happy to share theirexpertise• Archival materials can help you get aroundroad-blocks in your online research
  4. 4. Examples of offline resources• Records of religious organizations, including baptisms, marriages and burials• Records of land transfers• Municipal records, including assessment rolls and voters’ lists• School records• Police and court records• Hospital records• Military records• Wills• Records of businesses and charities• Maps, charts and plans• Newspapers• Manuscript collections• Films and videos• Photograph and postcard collections• Directories and telephone books• Manually-created indexes of names
  6. 6. Before you get there (1)• Do your homework!– Read up on the archives on their website to understandtheir holdings and their rules and procedures– Be aware that some smaller archives are not open everyday (or at weekends) and may close for lunch• It’s usually wise to contact the archives in advance of avisit– Not everything you need to know is online– If the archive has a small staff, they will appreciateknowing when you will arrive
  7. 7. Before you get there (2)• How easy is it to get to the archives?– What’s the parking like?– Is it accessible by public transit?– Is there somewhere nearby where you can grab acoffee/buy lunch or do you need to take your ownprovisions?• Do you need to make an appointment or ordermaterials in advance?– Some archives store collections in off-site locationsand need warning to order them for you
  8. 8. Finding and ordering documents• Most archives will have finding aids to their materials– Some may be online, some are not• You may have to fill out an order slip for archival materials– Some archives have a lot of material on microfilm/fiche which may beself-service– Document delivery may be at set times• The best finding aid is usually the brain of an experienced archivist– Cultivate that relationship!– “…be polite and deferential to the archivists. They are professionals,they are mighty, and they can make or break your research project.”,81158.msg1948552.html#msg1948552
  9. 9. Handling archives• By their nature, archives tend to be unique– People who care for them tend to be quite protective of them• Security procedures are usually more stringent thangeneral library regulations– You may have to put your bag in a locker– You will be expected to use a pencil, not a pen– You will usually be under some sort of surveillance when youuse archives– No food and drink are allowed near archival materials• You can’t browse archives like you can browse library books– You will usually order the materials you want from a catalogue
  10. 10. Keeping track of what you’ve seen• It’s easy to get carried away• Take copious notes on the materials you finduseful– Digital notes are more searchable later than hand-written ones• Remember power/extension cord for laptop• Record what you’ve looked at, even if it wasn’tuseful– You don’t want to have to look at things twice• Check out the archives’ digital camera policy
  11. 11. Using a camera for research• Record useful documents with your camera (ifuse of a camera is permitted)– Don’t use the flash (light damages materials)• Check the photo to make sure the document is legiblebefore you move on to the next item– Do take a photo of the document’s title/referencenumber/date to help identify it later– Take a spare battery/charger– Organize your photos into folders a way that is helpfulto you (e.g. by archive/collection/file)• Do this as soon as possible after your visit– Back up your images (very important)
  12. 12. Ordering copies• If you can’t take photographs of items, you may be able toorder photocopies• Policies and prices on photocopying vary from institution toinstitution• You may have to wait for copies to be sent to you after yourvisit• Copyright restrictions may be in place, but use for personalresearch is covered in the definition of ‘fair dealing’ inCanada
  13. 13. Physical perils of archival research• Back, neck and wrist pain– Archival boxes can be heavy – lift with care!– Chairs can be less than ideal for long periods of desk work– A small tripod for your digital camera might be a good investment– A scarf/sweater can protect your neck from over-fierce air conditioning• Microform-induced headaches– If you’re reading a lot on microfilm or microfiche, it can be a strain on youreyes: break up stretches of microform research with physical archival research– Bring painkillers• Cuts from paper/rusty paper clips/staples– Be careful - bring band-aids, just in case• Dust– A terrible archival cliché, but some documents are dusty: if you’re prone toallergies, be aware and bring Kleenex and maybe allergy medication
  15. 15. Cuts to archives• April 2012 announcement of elimination of the National ArchivalDevelopment Program (NADP)– Has had an impact on the work of many archives services• Generally archives and libraries, including Library and Archives Canada, areoperating in straitened circumstances• Letters of appreciation and/or monetary donations are always welcome!
  16. 16.
  18. 18. Important things to be aware of• Archives are the records that have survived– Just a ‘sliver’ of all the records ever created• Keeping archives for the long term is expensive– Not all records are kept– Only about 5% of the records produced bygovernments are transferred to their archives• A lot of what archivists do is deciding what is tobe kept and what is to be destroyed– Archivists have to be ruthless!
  19. 19. Collecting policies• These determine what an archives will keep– May be geographically-based, subject-based ororganizationally-focused• Archives can be found in libraries, museums andprivate organizations as well as in institutionswith the name of ‘Archives’– Sometimes you need to think laterally about wherecertain records might be kept– Information professionals like archivists and librarianscan help track down possible sources and locations
  20. 20. What do archivists do?• Keep records safe• Make records available– By arranging and describing them– By providing places to access them• In person• Online
  21. 21. Keeping records safe• Secure buildings• Climate-controlled to minimise environmentaldamage• Packaged in inert materials– Acid-free folders and boxes– Polyester sleeves for photographs
  22. 22. Arrangement and description• To know what is held and where it is• To make materials accessible to potentialusers• To explain the context of the creation and useof records
  23. 23. Archival arrangement• Provenance– Archives are usually arranged by creator, ratherthan by subject• Original order– Archivists try to organize materials in the way theywould have been used by the creatingorganization or individual
  24. 24. Provenance• Chain of custody is important for demonstrating theauthenticity of archival material• Need to maintain the coherence of a group ofmaterials in order for them to have archival integrity• Materials from one source should not be mixed withmaterials from another• Respect des fonds (respect for the source)
  25. 25. Definition of a fonds• All of the documents, regardless of form ormedium, naturally generated and/oraccumulated and used by a particularperson, family or corporate body in theconduct of personal or corporate activity
  26. 26. Within a fonds• Fonds can be large or small (even just oneitem)• Larger fonds are usually broken up into series– Series are groups of records with similarcharacteristics• E.g. minutes, correspondence, photographs• Series can be divided into files• Files contain items
  27. 27. Sample arrangementImperial Order ofthe Daughters ofEmpire, WaterlooChapter recordsMinutesMinuteBook, 1966-1969MinuteBook, 1969-1975CorrespondenceAdministrativecorrespondenceThank-you lettersOther materialsItems FilesSeriesFonds
  28. 28. Very complex arrangementAnti-Apartheid Movement papers, being sorted in Oxford, ca.1997
  29. 29. Mike Terry (1947-2008), executivesecretary of theAnti-ApartheidMovement, 1975-1994A case of ‘originaldisorder’!
  30. 30. • (A) Boycott Movement papers, 1959-1961• (B) AAM Governing Bodies, 1960-1995• (C) AAM Committees, 1960-1995• (D) Local Anti-Apartheid Groups, [ca. 1960]-1995• (E) Professional and Special Interest Groups Against Apartheid, 1970-1994• (F) Local Authorities Against Apartheid, [ca. 1960]-1995• (G) Britain, 1959-1995• (H) South Africa, 1959-1995• (I) South Africa in Transition, 1986-1995• (J) Other African Countries, 1961-1995• (K) Europe, 1972-1995• (L) Commonwealth, 1960-1994• (M) Overseas anti-apartheid organisations, 1963-1995• (N) International Organisations, 1960-1995• (O) Campaigns, 1956-1995• (P) AAM Head Office, 1960-1995• (Q) Correspondence, 1960-1995• (R) Anti-Apartheid Enterprises (AAE), 1986-1990• (S) Clapham Common Productions Limited, 1987-1995• (T) Freedom Productions Limited, 1987-1995• (U) Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), 1991-1998• (V) Photographs and Audio-Visual Material, 1900-[ca. 1999]• (W) Posters, 1963-[ca. 1999]• (X) Exhibition Material, Artwork and Objects, [ca. 1960]-[ca. 1999]• (Y) Printed Material, 1960-1994• (Z) Miscellaneous Material, [ca. 1960]-[ca. 1999],400 boxes ofmaterial, oncecatalogued!
  31. 31. Limited arrangement
  32. 32. Boxes in the Basement• 89 boxes – materials had already been used byresearchers: box numbers were known andrecords could not be re-arranged across boxes• Had to sort items within each box– Original boxes were replacedwith archival packaging– Each box filled around 3 archive boxes
  33. 33. Not part of the original order
  34. 34. Collections• Materials that were not generated as part of theactivity of a person or organisation• For example:– A group of postcards of a local town– Records relating to a particular subject, assembled byan individual• These are not fonds, but collections• Their provenance and original order may havebeen lost, but they are often arranged anddescribed as a discrete group of records
  35. 35. Description• A means of establishing intellectual controlover materials held in archives• A way of sharing information with potentialusers about– what our records contain– who created them– why they were created
  36. 36. Description• No standard way to describe archives until late20th century• Then: a flurry of descriptive standards– In Canada: Rules for Archival Description (RAD) –1990 (revised 2008)– Internationally: International Standard for ArchivalDescription (General) (ISAD(G)) - 1994
  37. 37. Descriptive standards• RAD and other archival description standardsbreak down descriptions into a set of keyelements• This helps archivists describe materials in aconsistent way• …and helps users know what to expect froman archival description
  38. 38. Key elements of an archival description described according to RADName of the repository holding the materialTitle of the fonds or collectionName of the creator of the archiveCovering dates of the materialSize of the collectionInformation about the creator: biographical details, history of an organizationDescription of the archival materials: what they contain, the context of theircreationAny restrictions on accessReference number: you might need this to order materialsCustodial history of the material: how it got to the archives
  39. 39. Key principles of archival description• Description goes from the general to thespecific• Arrangement defines description: once thematerial is arranged in a logical fashion, thedescription reflects the arrangement– Finding aids will usually give an overview of thefonds or collection, then describe eachseries, with its associated files or items
  40. 40. Sample arrangementImperial Order ofthe Daughters ofEmpire, WaterlooChapter recordsMinutesMinuteBook, 1966-1969MinuteBook, 1969-1975CorrespondenceAdministrativecorrespondenceThank-you lettersOther materialsItems FilesSeriesFonds
  41. 41. Level of description Contents Possible numberFonds-level description Overview of entire fonds 2008.33Series 1 Description of minute books 2008.33/1Item 1 Description of minute book 1 2008.33/1/1Item 2 Description of minute book 2 2008.33/1/2Series 2 Description of correspondence 2008.33/2File 1 Description of admin. corresp. 2008.33/2/1File 2 Description of thank-you letters 2008.33/2/2Series 3 Overall description of ‘othermaterials’2008.33/3Textual layout of detailed finding aidIn this example, thenumbering reflectsthe hierarchy of thedescription.
  42. 42. Level of description Contents Possible numberFonds-level description Overview of entire fonds 2008.33Series 1 Description of minute books 2008.33/1Series 2 Description of correspondence 2008.33/2Series 3 Overall description of ‘othermaterials’2008.33/3Alternative finding aidA more summarydescription.
  43. 43. Level of description Contents Reference numberFonds-level description Overview of entire fonds 2008.33Alternative finding aidA much moresummarydescription!
  44. 44. Access restrictions• There may be charges for accessing archives• Some records may be closed for reasons ofprivacy or sensitivity– Or simply because they are too fragile to behandled
  47. 47. Finding Archives in Ontario
  48. 48. Archeion
  49. 49. Ontario’s Archive Network• 96 archive-holding institutions across Ontario• Over 9,000 archival fonds/collectionsdescribed– Most at a summary level• Some with more detailed descriptions at series or filelevels• Nearly 13,000 individuals and organizationsidentified•
  50. 50. Repository information
  51. 51. Beyond
  52. 52. In summary• Archives have amazing, unique, rich materials• The majority are not online– At current rates, it will take 300-700 years todigitize LAC’s holdings• Online resources are a great place to start• Archivists love to have people use theircollections– Use them or lose them
  53. 53.