How to Search Archival Collections
Archives use tools called “finding aids” to create access to their collections. Like a library catalog record, finding aids help you collections relevant to your research. Unlike libraries, archives do not provide direct access to their materials. For a researcher to view archival collections they must request a specific collection and an archivist must retrieve it for them. Therefore, researchers must rely on finding aids to determine what collections they want to see.
Finding aids describe: who created a collection, the age of a collection, subjects referenced in a collection (think topics, people, places, etc.), the types of material contained in a collection (think letters, newspaper articles, certificates, etc.), and administrative information such as copyright information.
Finding Aids also describe how collections are arranged. Like city maps that lay out the relationship between streets, finding aids lay out the relationship between the parts of a collection (called series). Archival arrangement adheres to the rules of provenance and original order.
Reading The Black Archives Finding Aids
There are two sections to The Black Archives finding aids: the Overview and the Detailed Description. The Overview contains logistical information (such as the size and age of the collection, as well as information about the creator of the collection), a Scope and Contents note (which explains who created the collection, when the collection was created, what the collection is about, the types of material in the collection, and any special features or weaknesses the collection may have) and administrative information (such as access restrictions). For larger collections, the overview links to a “detailed description.” The detailed description provides descriptions of the parts of the collection.
What You Will Find in Archival Collections
Unlike libraries, which collect published materials, archives collect “personal papers” and “organizational records.” Personal papers and organizational records are unique collections of papers, accumulated naturally throughout the course of a person or organization’s life, that provide information about that person or organization and evidence of their activities. When you examine an archival collection, you are as close to history as you can get. To find out more about The Black Archives collections, go to About the Collection.
The easiest way to search The Black Archives’ finding aids website is to use the search feature located at the top of each page. Search results will include resources from throughout the site related to your search topic. The easiest way to search for keywords within a page is to use your browser’s “Find” function which can be accessed by holding down the “Ctrl” key while pressing the “F” key.