At The Archives

What To Do At The Archives

Want to find out more about your ancestors? Many services 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! 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 an 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 a collection of records that have been resourced from an archive.

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

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Express Your Thoughts Below!

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Registration At The Archives

Before you can get access to any records there will be a registration form to be filled out. This form can usually be located at the main desk.

Registration at the Archives

There may be 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 wonder 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 several 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 do not complete everything that you want 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 view any material you may come across a mistake. Please inform a member of staff.

This will help other researchers with their 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 the lesser important stuff.

Introduce Yourself

Please make connections with other researchers as they may be 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 many restrictions that you will need to abide by before you can gain access to the archives.

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

This guideline is pretty much self-explanatory. You can irreparably damage records if you spill anything onto them.

A conservator may be 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 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 for this rule is that it can distracte 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.

Try to record 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 can bring in electronic devices such as your cell phone/mobile phone, laptops, cameras, recorders, and personal scanners.

Electronic Devices

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

This can be a distraction to other users. If you do need to make a phone call please leave the building and enter again when the call is over.

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 put the flash off. Using a flash may result in pictures and text becoming faded if they are overexposed.

There may be WiFi access within the archives.

Staff may not be able to help you with any technical queries that you may have.

Handling Documents With Care

You will need to handle any documents, old or new, 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.

Make sure that you haveWhite Gloves clean hands that are free of lotions and perfumes.

It may be a requirement 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 who wish to use these materials.

There are usually place markers to help you put 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 there will be a permission form or call slip to complete.

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 have 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 several reasons for filling out a form, such as:

  • Prevent theft – Staff can see what materials are used and by who. 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 the 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 catalog to help you search for materials.

4.  Fill in a form to request 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 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.

Please share with family and friends if you think this post will help others by using the social media buttons below.

Article Name
What To Do At The Archives
Are you wondering what to do at the archives? And how to find your ancestors' records? This guide will help you get the most from your visit to an archive.
Publisher Name
The Genealogy Guide
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12 thoughts on “What To Do At The Archives”

  1. I am very interested in genealogy. I have a very good friend that has done a lot of os research into here families history and has uncovered some very interesting things.

    My mother is 95 years old and I feel the urgency glean as much information from her about our families past.

    You have given me a very thorough overview of what I can expect when I visit an archive.

    Where are most of the archives that would provide this kind of information located?

    1. That’s lovely that you’re mother is 95. What a great age.

      There should an archive center in most towns and cities. If there isn’t in your town you could try the next town

  2. Owain, thanks for the info, I have never been to an Archive before so the info here is pretty useful. For all the instructions listed it sounds just like a public library.

    I wounder how is it different from a library?

    I would like to check one out one day, how could I track down the nearest one?

    1. Yes pretty much like a library. You have records instead of books, but you have staff who are there to help you. You will have to be careful with the records though, and yes there are plenty of rules. But that’s because the records need to be preserved for other users and further generations

  3. I enjoyed your article about the archives. It’s nice to know the do’s and dont’s before going in. I feel like there’s not a lot of advice offered on this subject. You have an appropriate platform for this subject. Knowledge is key. Thanks for the info. Nice to know there’s assistance in this subject.

  4. Healthylifeforpets

    very interesting site. I have always wondere about my family tree. I had a cousin do a little but didnt get far I sent her this site with your info provided it may help her with the tools you shared in the site. Very detailed in content and showing tools that can be provided. Nice layout easy to read

  5. Archives are so fun to visit, but there is definitely a certain protocol to using them. I had to learn this the hard way, so I’m really glad you’re sharing this info. One big thing I didn’t realize was that I needed to have cash with me to pay for copies. Also, that I wouldn’t be able to handle some of the materials without assistance or without gloves. One thing I would like to add is that it’s probably best not to bring young children along. This way your time is more productive, and you don’t have to worry about kids accidentally damaging any of the materials. Thanks for another very informative article! I shared a link to your site on Facebook and Google+.

    1. I am glad that you found this article to be very informative and useful. You are quite right about young kids. It is best to leave your kids with family while you are busy at the archives. You can then focus your time and attention on your research. You will though have to have time when you get home to enter what you have found onto your computer

  6. Great informative posts.
    I personally am not planning a family history research in the near future, but I read through the post with a lot of interest.
    I have one question though. in today’s age, isn’t the data in the archives accessible online, or on any other digital media? It would seem the logical thing to do, and it could prevent many of things you mentioned (theft, missing material, erosion of material etc.)
    This would also help researchers if they could just search for things online.

    Is there a project of taking the data online?

    1. Thanks for your comment and your also your question.

      Although there does seem to be a lot of information on the Internet, actually not everything is yet online. New records are being put on genealogy sites all the time, but there is still a wealth of information to add. Hence a visit to the archives can prove useful.

      Not everyone is tech savvy and so these people would prefer to see the records in person. Transcribing errors also creep in when they are being put online. So it is also worth checking these records for yourself.

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