Locating archives for your research

Locating archives for your research

The front cover of the publication University, City and State - The University of Glasgow since 1870, by Michael Moss, J Forbes Munro and Richard H Trainor (Edinburgh Univesity Press, 2000).  (Copyright reserved. University of Glasgow).Sometimes it can be easy to find the sources you need, for example by doing simple internet searches for the person or organisation who created the records. However where this doesn’t work these are some steps that may help you to work out where you might find them.

Citations in publications

In most quality publications there will be notes about the sources used. Sometimes this will be in the form of footnotes for each reference or the author may have put together an appendix giving a detailed list of the sources consulted and where they can be found.

An example of the appendix approach, see appendix from University, City and State (1 page, 862kb small_pdf_icon), the first page of the Sources and Bibliography section from University City & State - The University of Glasgow since 1870, by Michael Moss, J. Forbes Munro and Richard H. Trainor.

Think about record creation and creators

Things are written down for any number of reasons but not everything is kept permanently as a record.

Think through such things as:

1. Why would anyone have written down or otherwise recorded the type of information you are interested in? For example,

  • Was there a legal or regulatory requirement?
  • Did they want to share information with other people like colleagues, customers or friends?

2. Who would have recorded it? For example,

  • Would it have been an official central organisation like a court or governmental organisation?
  • Would it have been an individual writing for personal reasons?
  • If the subject could not write, would the local lawyer or minister have recorded it on their behalf?
  • Would they have needed a professional like an accountant to do the work for them?

3. How would they most likely have recorded it? For example,

  • Filling out a form like a census return
  • Making a film or sound recording
  • Writing a letter

4. Why would anyone have kept it? For example,

  • Because they were required to keep it by law?
  • Sentimental or family history reasons?
  • Accidental survival hidden in an attic?

5. Why might it NOT have survived? For example,

  • The creator or creating organisation didn’t think it was worth keeping as a record. This may or may not be a deliberate, conscious act.
  • The paper they used may have been very fragile.
  • If it was recorded on an early computer disc it may not now be recoverable.
  • It may have been destroyed or lost in conflict. See for example the story of the University’s original Papal Bull.

6. Where might the record be now?

Front cover of Veterinary Medicine - A Guide to Historical Sources, by Pamela Hunter (Ashgate Publishing Ltd, England, 2004), ISBN 0-7546-4053-1.  Cover image is of a 16th century woodcut of a farrier giving a horse a drench by Jost Amman (copyright of The Trustees of The British Museum).Published archive guides

There are many published guides to archives of different organisations held in Glasgow University Library.

Online archive resource discovery portals

In addition to just doing general internet searches for records or record creators, there are many local, national and international gateways.

The UNESCO Archives Portal lists thousands of resources all over the world.

Those used most commonly by the University of Glasgow’s archivists are:

The UK National Register of Archives - a database of worldwide archive collections that relate to British history.

The Archives Hub - national gateway to descriptions of archives in UK universities and colleges.

The Scottish Archive Network - a catalogue of many archival resources held in Scotland.

A2A - a database that contains catalogues describing archives held locally in England and Wales and dating from the eighth century to the present day.

Internet for Archives - aims to introduce researchers to archives and help them to search for archive materials online.

People to ask for help with finding archives

If you are a current student, the obvious person to ask is a course lecturer who is supervising you in undertaking this work. They should be able to help you to start looking in the right place.

The University of Glasgow’s Archivists can also help our staff and students to think through the possible places that information may be retained. Make an appointment via our website.

If we don’t think we are the best people to advise you, we will tell you who else to contact.