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How do I search?

A guide to searching the archives catalogue

Searching archives catalogues for your research can be more challenging than using internet search engines like Google or any library catalogues that you might be familiar with.

Before you start your search, have a look through this guide to make sure you have a good strategy for finding the right material.

How do I find archives on a particular topic?

Whatever your research topic, have a think about the people, the organisations, the places, and the events related to it. Use these as keywords to start your search.

For example, perhaps you are interested in researching the history of the UK in and out of the EU. It would be useful to come up with a list of people (Harold Wilson, Edward Heath), organisations (EEC, EC, EU, Common Market) places (Brussels) and events (referendum) to help plan your search.

How do I understand the results?

The archives are organised into lots of different collections. For example, the Hetherington collection.

The Hetherington collection is itself organised into separate sections (sometimes called "series").

Each of those sections contain individual files.

From reading the description, if one of the individual files sounds like something you might like to read, you'll need to make a note of the "Reference Number/Ref No"and then see "Access archives and special collections".

Top tips

  • To search for a phrase use double quotation marks ie "east india company".

  • Use an asterisk to conduct a wildcard search eg politic* will search for politics, political, politician etc.

  • You can search for specific material within a collection under 'Advanced Search'. Enter your search terms in the 'Any Text' field and the collection reference followed by an asterisk (eg 7MGF* or BOOTH*) in the 'Ref No' field. This will limit your results to material within that collection, rather than searching across all archive collections.

  • It can be helpful to browse a particular collection to see what is contained within it and how it is arranged. To access the hierachy browser, click on the reference number hyperlink in the full description.
    A tree structure will appear, with the option to expand sections by clicking on the crosshairs. In the example of 7MGF (the papers of Millicent Garret Fawcett) are organised into correspondence, financial papers, working papers, objects etc.

Variations of words

If you are struggling to get results you expect with the keywords you are using, try to think laterally when selecting keywords and use several different terms when searching. You need to be specific enough to get meaningful results, but not so detailed that your search fails to pick up records that are not described with the exact terms you have used.

It can also be helpful to think about using terminology which would have been used at the time the records were created, rather than modern terms. For example, search for "European Economic Community" rather than European Union if you are searching for material from the 1970s on the UK joining the EEC (which subsequently became the EU).
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