This is the first post of “A Genealogist In The Archives” blog. My goal with this blog is to educate genealogists about the importance of archives and all that they have to offer. There are thousands of archives in the United States that are full of documents, photographs, artifacts and other ephemera that is just waiting to be discovered by YOU the genealogy researcher!
What Is A Finding Aid?
If you have ever been to a local or state archives doing research in a Manuscript Collection you most likely have come across a “Finding Aid” within a specific collection. Or maybe you have come across a Finding Aid within an online collection.
MSS-2, Marie Stockard Estate Collection, Box #1, located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives Manuscript Collection
A finding aid is a document containing detailed information about a specific collection of papers or records within an archive. Finding Aids are used by researchers and genealogists to determine whether information within the collection is relevant to their research. The Finding Aid for a collection is usually compiled by the archivist or librarian during the archival process.
The information found in a Finding Aid may be different depending on the type of material it is describing. Included in a Finding Aid is a description of the scope of the collection, biographical and historical information related to the collection and restrictions on the use of the materials if there are any.
Finding Aids also contain a list or inventory of the contents in the collection, these inventories can be vague or they can be very detailed.
The Finding Aid is a research tool that genealogist should pay attention to when researching in Manuscript Collections at an archives. The Finding Aid should give you information such as how large the collection is, who originally created the collection, the processing history of the collection, the collection citation that should be used, the scope and content of the collection and most importantly an inventory of what is in the collection.
Genealogists should be aware that not all Finding Aids list everything in a collection and we should not depend on them to tell us the whole truth of what is in a collection. It might still be necessary to view all documents in a collection to make sure something was not missed.
Manuscript Collections housed at local and state archives, genealogical societies, historical societies and other repositories are a gold mine of genealogical information. But like real gold mines, a genealogist has to sometimes dig through the collections to find those nuggets of genealogy gold.
So, why not visit an archives where your ancestors lived and ask about their Manuscript Collections, you might just be surprised at what you find!