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Archives 101: Finding Aids

Basic information and tips on how to search for and access archives.

Using a Finding Aid

Finding aids are created by archivists and contain contextual information about the archival materials they describe. This information may come directly from the donor or record creator(s) and may not be available through other sources. The image below is an example of one of the Northern BC Archives digital finding aids for the Adam Zimmerman fonds. Some important areas to note while viewing any finding aid are:

  • Side navigation to lower levels within a fonds, series, or file
  • Level of description: indicates the extent of the content being described. A fonds represents an entire volume or book on the life of a person or organization. A series may be a chapter of that life while a file or item may only be a page or a day in that life.
  • Reference code: Like a call number for a library book, you will need to know this code to access archival materials but, unlike a call number, you will also need it in your citation.
  • Date(s): The date or time period the records were created.
  • Physical description: Indicates the full size in linear meters. VERY IMPORTANT for time management and will help you estimate the amount of time you will need to spend in the archives. Note: 1 m of records = 3 bankers boxes of papers.
  • Biographical or Administrative History: Information on the person or organization that created these records. Only found at the fonds level.
  • Scope and Content: Overview or description of the contents of the fonds, series, file, or item. VERY IMPORTANT! If you read nothing else on a finding aid, read the Scope and Content!
  • Uploaded Finding Aid: A PDF finding aid that is easier to navigate than a digital finding aid but harder to search.
  • Related Materials: Good to look at if the materials described in the finding aid are useful to your research.
  • Browse Digital Objects: (right side navigation) Click on this link if you only wish to see material available digitally. Note: Sort by Reference Code to see original order of photographs.

Screenshot of the Adam Zimmerman fonds online finding aid/web page