What To Do At The Archives

Want to find out more about your ancestors? There are many services that are available to you at the archives. But what exactly can you do there I hear you say.

At The Archives

I have previously mentioned what you need to do to prepare for your visit in the Plan a Visit to the Archives article.

Here, I will expand on this further and discuss what you can do at the archives. I will also cover what guidelines you need to follow as well.

Before you continue!

FamilySearch.org offers an interactive map where you can find a family history center. This is a worldwide map so chances are that you will find a center near where your ancestor lived and worked.

The following video presented by expert genealogist from Crista Cowan from Ancestry will help you get the most from state archives.

Please take a moment to check it out.

Credit:   Ancestry

Further Help!

A genealogy search website may help you if you are not able to attend an archive. These sites may have collection of records that have been taken from an archive.

So, it’s worth checking these sites out, although you will need to have a subscription to access the records.

Express Your Thoughts Below

Express Your Thoughts Below!

I would love to hear from you.

Registration At The Archives

Before you will be granted access to any records you will need to register your details at the main desk.

Registration at the Archives

There maybe an age restriction to use the archives, however you can be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The rules and guidelines can be viewed at the entry desk. There will also be signs placed around the archives to remind you what you can and cannot do.

Details you will provide:

  • Name,
  • Date of birth,
  • Address,
  • Institutions you have joined,
  • Materials you will use,
  • What are you researching.

You may be wondering just why do you need to provide these details anyway.

Just what is the point?

Well, there are two reasons why you are required to fill in an application form.

1. Assistance – Archival staff can assess how best to help you with your research.

2. Security reasons – As the records office holds valuable information it is important to note who is in the building and what they are researching in case any theft takes place.

Tips To Follow At The Archives

There are a number of tips that you can follow that will help you get the most out of your experience at the archives.

Tips To Follow At The Archives

After all you do want to leave the archives knowing that you have done as much as you possibly could have while you were there.

And if you did not complete everything that you wanted to do then you can always go back another day.

Ask for Assistance

If you require help at any time then please ask a member of staff for help. That’s what they are there for.

Bring Supplies

Please bring stationary and devices that you will need while you are in the archives. Also, a sweater/jumper is advisable as the rooms will be cooler than outside. This is to help preserve the materials.

Take Notes


Record what you find and cite correctly.

This will help you for your next visit as you will know what you have already viewed.

Point Out Mistakes

While you are viewing any material you may come across a mistake. Please inform a member of staff.

This will help other researchers with their own research when accessing the same materials.

Prioritize Your Time

When you arrive at the archives request the most important materials first. Then you can concentrate on lesser important stuff.

Introduce Yourself

By making connections with other researchers they maybe able to help further your research. You may ask a staff member if there is anyone else doing the same research.

What Can You Bring Into The Archives?

There are a number of restrictions that you will need to abide to before you are granted access into the archives.

No food, drink or gumno-food-or-drink

This guideline is pretty much self explanatory. Obviously if you may irreparably damage records if you spill anything onto them.

A conservator maybe able to save the documents but at a cost to you.

Another reason for this restriction is that food may attract insects and rodents into the building and may as a result damage/destroy the records.

No coats, bags or umbrellasno-bag-or-coat

One thing to deter theft is the removal of coats, bags and umbrellas from the research rooms. You can store these items in a locker that is provided free of charge.

However, if there is only a public coat rack then remove valuables such as your keys and wallet.

One other reason is that it can be distracting for other patrons if you are rummaging through your bag.

Stationary you can use

At the archives you will be encouraged to use pencils instead of pens. This is to prevent you from accidentally marking the documents that you are reading.

Pencil and Notebook

You are also advised not to use erasers.

You can also bring in loose paper and notebooks to write down any notes that you need to make.

Recording what you have used and where you can find them will be particularly useful for you.

Generally you will not be allowed to bring in clipboards, folders or plastic sleeves.

Please check before you enter the archives what you can and cannot bring into the building.

Electronic devices

You are allowed to bring in electronic devices such as your cell phone/mobile phone, laptops, cameras, recorders and personal scanners.

Electronic Devices

Please do not make phone calls while you are in the archives.

This can be very distracting to other users. If you do need to make a phone call please leave the building and enter again when you have finished.

Staff may ask to inspect your devices before and after you enter the archives. This will be one condition of entry into the building.

Reproducing any document will require you to ask permission first!

If you intend on using any of these items then you must be considerate of other researchers, and so you will need to follow guidelines.

Please put all of these devices on silent mode.

If you want to take photos then it is best to out the flash off. Using a flash may result in pictures and text becoming faded if they are overexposed.

There maybe WiFi access within the archives.

However, staff may not be able to help you with any technology queries that you may have.

Handling Documents With Care

Any documents that you use whether old or new will need to be handled with care.

Older documents will of course be fragile, but you still need to be careful with new documents as these still need to be preserved for future use.

Book pillows can be provided to add further protection to the documents that you intend on using.

You will need to make sure that you haveWhite Gloves clean hands that are free of lotions and perfumes.

You may be required to use gloves for certain items.

This will help prevent oils or other residues on your hands from contaminating the documents.

In my experience you don’t necessarily need to wear gloves, but if you have been asked to do so then please follow these instructions.

Return the items correctly!

After you have used any materials please put them back where you found them and in the order that you found them.

If you do not follow this guideline then archivists may assume that they are missing. This will lead to delays for other researchers wishing to use these materials.

There are usually place markers to help you out the materials back in their rightful place. Items can also be marked that you wish to be photocopied.

Another guideline that you may need to follow is the practice to take just one box from a folder at a time.

Requesting materialsRequest Materials

Whenever you require any material you will need to fill out a permission form or call slip.

You will also need to fill out a form when you wish to reproduce any material.

These forms may also list guidelines that you will need to follow.

On these forms you will need to enter details such as your name, what you wish to use and your signature.

By signing the form you agree that you understand the guidelines and that you will follow them.

There are a number of reasons for filling out a form, such as:

  • Prevent theft – Staff can see what materials are used and by whose. This can also act as a deterrent.
  • Keeping records – These forms are very useful for making sure that the correct materials are retrieved for you. Also these forms help to check how often these materials are requested and for preservation purposes.
  • Calculating costs – There will be costs associated with these items and these forms will help to calculate those.

Procedures To Follow In A Reading Room

To get the most out of your experience at the archives you will need to follow a procedure. Yes, I know more instructions, but they are there to help you, trust me.

1.  Approach a member of staff when you enter the room.

2.  State what you wish to use and the intended purposes. This will help staff determine which section you need to go to find your materials.

3.  You will be granted access to archival aids. These aids will include things such as a catalogue to help you search for materials.

4.  Fill in a form requesting your materials. Then give this form to a member of staff.

5.  Materials will then be brought into the reading room. However, there will be a delay so it is best to ask staff how long you will need to wait.

6.  You will be given one material at a time. Makes notes and ask for a copies if you wish.

7.  Return your materials to a member of staff. You can request materials to stay in the reading room for an extended time. Generally this will be a maximum of two weeks.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post about what to do at the archives. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.

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