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A guide to archival research at King's

What is an Archives?

Archives contain original, unique, and mostly unpublished records. They are essential for historical research and preservation. If archival material is destroyed, stolen, or damaged, then the information those records contain could be lost forever. All Archives specialize in different topics and fields. Here at King's, our Archives specializes in records pertaining to the history of the University of  King's College, and is located in the Library. Researchers (referring to anyone who is looking to do research) may place requests for material at any time, but materials may be consulted only while Archives staff are on duty.

At King's, we sometimes refer to the area where we store our Archives and Special Collections as "the Treasure Room."

A corridor of the King's archives room, several rows of shelves are in view with white boxes on them

Image of Treasure Room (Archives Room/Vault)

How are Archives Organized?

Archivists keep two key principles in mind when organizing archival materials:

1.) Provenance: Archival materials should be kept within the context that they were originally created; Materials from one creator should not be mixed with another

2.) Respect des fonds (respect for original order): Archival materials should be physically organized in the original order that they arrived in whenever possible

While trying to balance these two principles, archivists use a special system to intellectually organize materials and describe them. This system looks a bit like the image below:

Image courtesy of McMaster University Library

A group of related archival materials is called a fonds. Fonds can be broken down into series, and further into files and items. Here is an example of a common breakdown:

Fonds level - Jane Doe Fonds

Series level - Series 1: Jane Doe's Personal Correspondence, Series 2: Jane Doe's Business records

File level - Series 2 files: Invoices ; Emails

The item level description refers to each individual record in a fonds and is rarely used. Having a basic understanding of this system can help researchers interpret finding aids, but archival staff are here to guide you!


What is a Finding Aid?

A finding aid is a list of archival records related to a particular fonds. It is generally organized thematically and includes a description of the records included in that fonds. It often also includes the measurements of those records and where the archivist can find them in the archives, hence the name finding aid

You can find examples of finding aids on King's MemoryNS Page. Like many archives, most of our records are not in finding aids because they have not been formally processed yet. Archives deal with a lot of backlog because it takes so much time and careful attention to process archival records. If you are having trouble reading any of our finding aids, don't hesitate to reach out to the University Archivist, Tracy Lenfesty (