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Manuscripts and Archives

This guide will help researchers locate and search manuscripts and archival collections

Tips for finding manuscript and archival resources for a topic

Documents from the Daphne Mayo collection, UQFL119, Fryer Library, University of Queensland Library.

Whether searching across national collections, at a specific institution, or a specialised database, these tips will help you find relevant manuscripts and archives for your research.

Know your topic

A working knowledge of your topic topic makes it much easier to find manuscript and archival material. Secondary sources, such as books and journal articles, help identify key details and will often quote primary sources (and in the case of manuscripts and archives, list where they are held).

Similarly, some libraries and archives  produce guides or indexes to help researchers with a particular topic.

Search by provenance

Searching for manuscripts and archives is very different from searching for published material or secondary sources because manuscripts and archives are organised by who collected or created the collections (by provenance), not by subject or topic.

To find relevant materials brainstorm who would have created, collected, or been responsible for the records.

  • For example: if a government agency was involved, the records will usually be held by a state or national archive.

Use concrete keywords

Similarly, concrete search terms such as key places, events, dates, people or organisations involved in your topic are the most effective, because this information is used to organise or describe manuscripts and archives.

  • For example, if you were researching industrial action in Brisbane in the 1980s, searching for the records of organisations involved, such as  the Electrical Trades Union or the South East Queensland Electricity Board, will provide more relevant manuscript results than the broad, topical term 'industrial action'.

Appraise the collection

A search might result in finding a specific item or a collection of material. If you locate a larger collection of material, look closely at the collection to check  relevance. Most libraries and archives now provide an online listing or finding aid for larger collections, which describe its contents.

Search across archives and special libraries

If you are not sure where a particular collection of records or papers may be held, or if you would like to see what collections are held by different institutions use a federated search across different institutions.

Search for collections at a particular institution

Often you will want to focus your searching on collections at a particular institution. For example, government records in Queensland are held by Queensland State Archives. Below are some links to search specific collections.