This week the annual Explore Your Archives campaign launched here in the UK. Remember only a tiny fraction of historical materials have been digitised and made available online, so archives still hold many treasures genealogists need. Learning to use an archive is really important.
I am prepared to bet that most of us were taught how to use a library sometime in childhood, but we learn to use archives as adults by trial and error. Libraries organise their books and other materials and have catalogues to help you find what you want. Archives also organise and catalogue their holdings, but do so differently.
Archives are organised using a hierarchy with several levels. Cataloguing archives, in four very easy steps illustrates the four main levels with rather natty photos. The levels are:
- Fonds or Collection
I would like to see a summary like this one posted on every archive's website and displayed prominently in every search room. I am sure UK researchers are familiar with some of the contents of the fonds HO, RG and WO. Have you looked at other fonds, and other series within fonds? Take a close look at RG 101.
Now it is your turn. Have fun exploring an archive!
Bevan, Amanda. 2006. Tracing your Ancestors in the National Archives. The National Archives: Richmond. pp 4-7.