Doing Archival Research

Questions to Consider

  • Does the collection cover the time period in which you're interested?
  • How much material does the collection comprise? 
    Size may be noted in inches, linear feet, cubic feet, volumes, folders, reels, etc. The extent will give you an indication of how much time it will take for you to use the entire collection or a portion of it.
  • Where is the repository located? Can you get there easily? 
    If travel to the library is prohibitive, you may be able to request copies of documents from the collection.
  • How is the collection organized? 
    Pinpoint the portions of the collection (i.e. boxes or folders) that you believe will be of most use to your project. Interpret the language and wording used by the archives and the individual or organization that created the material.

Examples of Collection Guides

Collection descriptions, inventories, or guides can help you determine whether a particular collection will be useful for your research. These descriptions may be available through catalogs, databases, research guides, or other finding aids. If an online guide is not available, contact the repository for further information.

Examples of guides:

Shaker Collection (Williams Special Collections)
Adelphic Union (Williams Special Collections)

Evacuees Research Guide (National Archives, UK)