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Using Archives

Information on archival and primary source research, and how to access the University of Melbourne Archives

Glossary of archival terms

Accession A group of archival documents (usually from a single provenance) transferred to an archival repository at the one time. An accession can be one of a number of accessions that form a collection, a group of records created by a single person or organisation.
Collection A collection can refer either to the entire contents of an archival repository or to a group of records created by a single person or organisation. In the latter meaning, a collection from a single person or organisation can include many different accessions. Not all collections have finding aids.
Finding aid

A finding aid is similar to a catalogue of a collection. It lists the contents of a single collection to the box or file level rather than every single item in the collection, as a library catalogue does. They are usually divided into series (see below) or groups and give box numbers in order to help locate particular material in a collection.

Manuscript An original paper document. Most archival collections consist primarily of manuscript documents. Some archival institutions (particularly those that are part of a broader library institution, such as the State Library of Victoria) call their archival collections manuscript collections.
Original order

The order in which the records were kept by the creator of the records. It is an important archival principle because the context of a document and the manner in which it was stored may tell the historian almost as much about the record as its contents.

Provenance Information about the current and previous ownership of records. "Provenance" describes the relationships between records and the organisations or individuals who created them.

The physical space in which an archival collection is held. Larger collections are usually housed in environmentally-controlled, secure sites in order to properly conserve the records. Many archival institutions have off-site repositories, so records cannot be retrieved immediately.


A number of records within a collection that are arranged together. The records will have been arranged together either during the original use and storage of the documents, or placed together by an archivists because they had a similar function (e.g. correspondence, financial ledgers, staff cards) or because of their format (e.g. photographs, cassette tapes).