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Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Business/Organization Records: Collection Finding Aids

Individual Collection Finding Aids

To aid researchers in finding relevant material in archival collections that may include thousands of pages of documents, archivists prepare narrative finding aids.

Formats vary from archives to archives and sometimes between collections, but almost all of them include information about the nature and source of the collection; a biographical sketch of the individual or a history of the organization who created the records; a “scope and content” note that is the archivist’s evaluation of the collection, usually containing information about major groups of records within the collection, the organization of the collection, what researchers may expect to find in the papers, topical or chronological strengths and deficiencies of the collection, and other information that would assist someone using the collection; and a container list, usually showing descriptions and dates of individual boxes or folders.

Increasingly, finding aids are becoming more standardized between institutions as more archives are adopting common descriptive formats for computerized and Internet exchange of information. Modern finding aids produced by the Kansas State Historical Society conform to national archival descriptive standards. Collection finding aids, usually called registers or inventories, may contain some or all of the following elements:

Title page

Table of contents

Descriptive information
o Name of repository
o Creator
o Title
o Dates
o Quantity of the collection
o A brief statement of its contents
o Collection identification
o Other notes.

Biography or history of the creator or subject of the collection

Scope and contents note
An analysis of the contents of the collection.

Organization of the collection
A brief note explaining how the major parts of the collection are organized.

Arrangement of the collection
A brief statement explaining how documents within the collection are filed.

Adjunct descriptive data
o Related materials
o Separated materials
o Other finding aids
o Indexes
o Bibliographies
o Other descriptive information about the collection

Other descriptive data

Controlled access headings
Terms used in descriptions of the collection:
o Personal names
o Corporate names
o Family names
o Geographic names
o Subjects
o Form (genre) of the documents
o Titles
o Occupations
o Functions

Administrative information
o Restrictions on access to the collection
o Restrictions on use of the collection, including copyright information
o Custodial history of the collection (previous owners)
o Alternative formats available, such as microfilm
o Citation form
o Acquisition and processing information
o Appraisals
o Accruals.

Description of subordinate components
Box or folder lists, sometimes with content annotations.

Sample finding aid on the web

List of Kansas State Historical Society finding aids on the web


Container Lists

In cases where a full finding aid has not yet been written, box and folder content lists have often been prepared to aid researchers wishing to use individual collections. Copies of these are available in our Research Room or by contacting our reference staff.

Finding Aids Introduction