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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.

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 hands on archival gold Amanda Hill Archives Association of Ontario
  2. 2. WHY VISIT ARCHIVES? http://www.flickr.com/photos/madison_guy/3386919046/
  3. 3. • Not everything is online • Archives and library staff have in-depth knowledge of sources and subject • They are (usually!) happy to share their expertise • Archival materials can help you get around road-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
  5. 5. HOW TO USE ARCHIVES http://www.flickr.com/photos/incursion-voyages/5201189373/
  6. 6. Before you get there (1) • Do your homework! – Read up on the archives on their website to understand their holdings and their rules and procedures – Be aware that some smaller archives are not open every day (or at weekends) and may close for lunch • It’s usually wise to contact the archives in advance of a visit – Not everything you need to know is online – If the archive has a small staff, they will appreciate knowing 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 a coffee/buy lunch or do you need to take your own provisions? • Do you need to make an appointment or order materials in advance? – Some archives store collections in off-site locations and 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 be self-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.” http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,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 than general 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 you use 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 find useful – 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’t useful – 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 (if use of a camera is permitted) – Don’t use the flash (light damages materials) • Check the photo to make sure the document is legible before you move on to the next item – Do take a photo of the document’s title/reference number/date to help identify it later – Take a spare battery/charger – Organize your photos into folders a way that is helpful to 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 to order photocopies • Policies and prices on photocopying vary from institution to institution • You may have to wait for copies to be sent to you after your visit • Copyright restrictions may be in place, but use for personal research is covered in the definition of ‘fair dealing’ in Canada
  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 your eyes: 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 to allergies, be aware and bring Kleenex and maybe allergy medication
  14. 14. A SIDE NOTE ON RECENT POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS http://www.flickr.com/photos/jezpage/3412068580/
  15. 15. Cuts to archives • April 2012 announcement of elimination of the National Archival Development Program (NADP) – Has had an impact on the work of many archives services • Generally archives and libraries, including Library and Archives Canada, are operating in straitened circumstances • Letters of appreciation and/or monetary donations are always welcome!
  16. 16. www.canadaspastmatters.ca
  17. 17. HOW ARCHIVISTS DEAL WITH ARCHIVES: DECODING THE JARGON http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnkay/3410643928/
  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 by governments are transferred to their archives • A lot of what archivists do is deciding what is to be 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 or organizationally-focused • Archives can be found in libraries, museums and private organizations as well as in institutions with the name of ‘Archives’ – Sometimes you need to think laterally about where certain records might be kept – Information professionals like archivists and librarians can 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 environmental damage • 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 potential users • To explain the context of the creation and use of records
  23. 23. Archival arrangement • Provenance – Archives are usually arranged by creator, rather than by subject • Original order – Archivists try to organize materials in the way they would have been used by the creating organization or individual
  24. 24. Provenance • Chain of custody is important for demonstrating the authenticity of archival material • Need to maintain the coherence of a group of materials in order for them to have archival integrity • Materials from one source should not be mixed with materials from another • Respect des fonds (respect for the source)
  25. 25. Definition of a fonds • All of the documents, regardless of form or medium, naturally generated and/or accumulated and used by a particular person, family or corporate body in the conduct of personal or corporate activity
  26. 26. Within a fonds • Fonds can be large or small (even just one item) • Larger fonds are usually broken up into series – Series are groups of records with similar characteristics • E.g. minutes, correspondence, photographs • Series can be divided into files • Files contain items
  27. 27. Sample arrangement Imperial Order of the Daughters of Empire, Waterloo Chapter records Minutes Minute Book, 1966-1969 Minute Book, 1969-1975 Correspondence Administrative correspondence Thank-you letters Other materials Items Files Series Fonds
  28. 28. Very complex arrangement Anti-Apartheid Movement papers, being sorted in Oxford, ca.1997
  29. 29. Mike Terry (1947- 2008), executive secretary of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, 1975- 1994 A case of ‘original disorder’!
  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] http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/rhl/aam/aam.html 1,400 boxes of material, once catalogued!
  31. 31. Limited arrangement
  32. 32. Boxes in the Basement • 89 boxes – materials had already been used by researchers: box numbers were known and records could not be re-arranged across boxes • Had to sort items within each box – Original boxes were replaced with 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 the activity of a person or organisation • For example: – A group of postcards of a local town – Records relating to a particular subject, assembled by an individual • These are not fonds, but collections • Their provenance and original order may have been lost, but they are often arranged and described as a discrete group of records
  35. 35. Description • A means of establishing intellectual control over materials held in archives • A way of sharing information with potential users about – what our records contain – who created them – why they were created
  36. 36. Description • No standard way to describe archives until late 20th century • Then: a flurry of descriptive standards – In Canada: Rules for Archival Description (RAD) – 1990 (revised 2008) – Internationally: International Standard for Archival Description (General) (ISAD(G)) - 1994
  37. 37. Descriptive standards • RAD and other archival description standards break down descriptions into a set of key elements • This helps archivists describe materials in a consistent way • …and helps users know what to expect from an archival description
  38. 38. Key elements of an archival description described according to RAD Name of the repository holding the material Title of the fonds or collection Name of the creator of the archive Covering dates of the material Size of the collection Information about the creator: biographical details, history of an organization Description of the archival materials: what they contain, the context of their creation Any restrictions on access Reference number: you might need this to order materials Custodial history of the material: how it got to the archives
  39. 39. Key principles of archival description • Description goes from the general to the specific • Arrangement defines description: once the material is arranged in a logical fashion, the description reflects the arrangement – Finding aids will usually give an overview of the fonds or collection, then describe each series, with its associated files or items
  40. 40. Sample arrangement Imperial Order of the Daughters of Empire, Waterloo Chapter records Minutes Minute Book, 1966-1969 Minute Book, 1969-1975 Correspondence Administrative correspondence Thank-you letters Other materials Items Files Series Fonds
  41. 41. Level of description Contents Possible number Fonds-level description Overview of entire fonds 2008.33 Series 1 Description of minute books 2008.33/1 Item 1 Description of minute book 1 2008.33/1/1 Item 2 Description of minute book 2 2008.33/1/2 Series 2 Description of correspondence 2008.33/2 File 1 Description of admin. corresp. 2008.33/2/1 File 2 Description of thank-you letters 2008.33/2/2 Series 3 Overall description of ‘other materials’ 2008.33/3 Textual layout of detailed finding aid In this example, the numbering reflects the hierarchy of the description.
  42. 42. Level of description Contents Possible number Fonds-level description Overview of entire fonds 2008.33 Series 1 Description of minute books 2008.33/1 Series 2 Description of correspondence 2008.33/2 Series 3 Overall description of ‘other materials’ 2008.33/3 Alternative finding aid A more summary description.
  43. 43. Level of description Contents Reference number Fonds-level description Overview of entire fonds 2008.33 Alternative finding aid A much more summary description!
  44. 44. Access restrictions • There may be charges for accessing archives • Some records may be closed for reasons of privacy or sensitivity – Or simply because they are too fragile to be handled
  45. 45. STARTING YOUR SEARCH: FINDING ARCHIVES ONLINE http://www.flickr.com/photos/hinkelstone/2435823037/
  46. 46. ARCHIVES ASSOCIATION OF ONTARIO RESOURCES
  47. 47. Finding Archives in Ontario http://aao-archivists.ca/directory/DAIO.html
  48. 48. Archeion
  49. 49. Ontario’s Archive Network • 96 archive-holding institutions across Ontario • Over 9,000 archival fonds/collections described – Most at a summary level • Some with more detailed descriptions at series or file levels • Nearly 13,000 individuals and organizations identified • http://archeion.ca
  50. 50. Repository information
  51. 51. Beyond Ontario www.archivescanada.ca
  52. 52. In summary • Archives have amazing, unique, rich materials • The majority are not online – At current rates, it will take 300-700 years to digitize LAC’s holdings • Online resources are a great place to start • Archivists love to have people use their collections – Use them or lose them
  53. 53. http://www.flickr.com/photos/squashvalleyproduce/6029647128/

Editor's Notes

  • A six-year task to organize and describe!
  • 51 boxes of miscellaneous material!
  • ×