Using archive catalogues

A practical look at using archive catalogues –
for this exercise I will be using the online archive catalogues of two English counties, Cumbria and Gloucestershire.

Most online catalogues will give an outline of what the catalogue includes, will provide both quick and advanced search options, and guidance how to search the catalogue.

The Cumbria  Archive Service, includes four centres in Barrow, Carlisle, Kendal and Whitehaven.

The catalogue is CASCAT, the coverage statement  includes the following: not all collections have been catalogued fully in CASCAT, and some collections do not have an electronic catalogue or have not been listed.

Usefully there is a tab on the home page of the catalogue where you can check for New collections, for example a recent addition to Kendal Archive Centre is the Alfred Wainwright Collection – he was the celebrated fellwalker and author.

A basic Search box appears on the home page, as well as a tab forAdvanced Search

The search terms I shall  be using are ‘almshouse’, and the plural ‘almshouses’.

Using the basic Search the results were:
almshouse = 11  (any text)
almshouses = 65 (any text)

Clicking on an entry in the results gives the individual record
where an outline of the collection arrangement is given at the topfollowed by the centre it is held at, the reference, title and catalogue level

Using advanced search, the results were:
almshouse =  3 in collection title   
almshouses =  46 in collection title

Extra search options/ and.or filters are by archive centre, reference number, collection title, date and catalogue level.

Gloucestershire Archives
The scope of the online catalogue is ‘brief details of all archive collections and full details for all catalogued collections held at Gloucestershire Archives as well as details of the local studies material held in seven centres across the county’.

The online catalogue home page includes a Quick search option, which  isAnyText.  Where the results were:
almshouse = 128
almshouses = 364

The high number of results here is accounted for by the fact that the entire online catalogue is being searched so will includes books, films and other items held in the local studies centres as well as material in the archives.

There is also the option to search the archives only, search local studies only, and the library catalogue.

Searching archives only, using the advanced search  gives
almshouse = 98 in AnyText
almshouses = 247 in AnyText
almshouse = 57  in Title
almshouses = 163 in Title

There is also a option to search and/or refine the search by FindingRef andDate

Once you have a list of results
Click to see Overview of records  and then
Click on an individual record for more detail

The layout for an individual record is as follows:

Level               Title

Collection:    Cheltenham Family Welfare Association (formerly              Cheltenham Charities Organisation Society); Cheltenham District Nursing Association

FindingRef:        D2465/7

Title:                 Sunset Home almshouse

Date:                  1926-1989

Description:        See also D2465/1/43]

Admin History:   A Sunset Home was started in 1913 at 3 Monson Terrace on a £1000 legacy from Miss Voile. It was sold in 1938 when the present premises in Carleton Street were purchased

HeldAt:                Gloucestershire Archives

SortRef:              Click on the red icon to see this record in               context

A further, detailed study of archive catalogues and their use, ‘Record office online catalogues’ by Dorian Gerhold can be found in The Local Historian(Journal of the British Association for Local History) volume 43, no. 1 February 2013 pp 57-63

An abstract of the article can be found here – (fifth entry down).

Key points about using archive catalogues:
*  Familiarise yourself with your local record office online catalogue – it will be worth the effort.
* Remember that online catalogues are updated at intervals, so it can be well worth repeating a search at a later date.
* The documents held in archives are usually unique.
* Whatever your interest, there is likely to be something in the archive which will arouse your curiosity.
Enjoy the discovery process!