How to use archives

Find out what it’s like in an archive, and how to prepare for your visit.

Start at home

  • Look on the archive’s website to see if they provide research guidance and to find out how the archive is arranged
  • If the archive has an online catalogue, take some time to find out how to use it. Don’t expect it to be like Google – a simple keyword search will not always work
  • Do some research before you come. Read some published books first for ideas, or talk to relatives if you’re doing your family history
  • Check different archives and organisations for relevant documents. You might find useful material in a number of different places

In an archive

  • Bring plenty of patience and tenacity with you. Researching can take a while and relevant documents may be in a number of different places
  • Be prepared to use a computer to search for documents or to view digitised records. You might also need to look at documents that are on microfilm and microfiche
  • Recognise both the limitations and potential of the archive – you may not find exactly what you are looking for, but you could find new sources you didn’t know existed
  • Bring a pencil – ink is not allowed near the records in archives

What’s it like to visit an archive?

Before you visit an archive, get a feel for the experience by reading these blog posts:

Go to the Archives hub: A guide for the Inexperienced for further guidance.

Ready to start?

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