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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Archival Centres by Ryan Taylor. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Researchers who make telephone, fax, email or mail queries to archives should ensure that their expectations are consistent with the policies and resources of the archives concerned.
Most archives will have stated, through their website or introductory brochure, whether they have the facilities to reply to off-site queries and, if so, what their policy is regarding timeliness of the response, amount of time to be devoted to it, and whether there will be a charge. Researchers will find that most repositories have some service which will respond to these queries, but they are limited by constraints of finances and staff to what they can do. If the query is simple and short, there is a good chance it can be answered. “Do you have…?” is a good possibility, and a positive response can lead to a visit. If a certain document is to be consulted for the presence of a single name, that may be possible also. Blanket requests for searches in a series of records for all the instances of a surname will certainly not be.
Whatever the good intentions of the institution, it is possible that the response may take some time. At present, queries of this nature sent to Library and Archives Canada can take two to thirty working days for a response; the genealogist might think that the query had been lost. This is simply because of the volume of requests and staff limitations. Furthermore, many of the collections at LAC are unindexed by name and, therefore, LAC has determined it is not able to undertake searches on your behalf in unindexed records. An alternative is to hire a professional researcher to do the search. Although it is more costly, it has the advantages of being quicker (in most cases) and of leaving you more in control of the process. Asking a bureaucracy a question means that you surrender to its rules and limits. If you are paying for the answer, it is possible to raise expectations considerably.
Many large institutions provide lists of professional researchers who do research there but are not employees of the archives. Some compile this list simply from information submitted by anyone who cares to; others (such as the Nova Scotia Archives) require that genealogists listed have a professional qualification. Another consideration is how often the list is renewed. Some names may remain on the list despite the person being retired or incapacitated. The Newfoundland archives list requires an annual renewal which is enforced by the payment of a fee.
Reproduction Services and Copyright
Most archives will offer some form of reproduction services based on their own facilities and the restrictions of the material they hold. Most places with microfilm will allow printing from the film, or (as in the case of Library and Archives Canada) make the copies for you. They will have firmly established prices and timelines for this service. It may also be possible to photocopy some documents or to have them photographed. More and more, scanning services are also available as the scanning process becomes less invasive. As stated above, some institutions may allow photography or scanning by users.
Sometimes, archives will restrict the number of photocopies they will make for a patron in any one day, in an attempt to provide service for as many patrons as possible. Some of these same archives will, however, accept more than this maximum number of requests. The surplus requests are then filled as time allows and sent to the patron either by mail or by email attachment. Taking a few self-addressed sticky labels with you to the archives simplifies completing envelopes to allow the mailing of such further photocopies.
It is worth stating again that, as well as making the documents available for researchers, the prime responsibility of the archivist is ensuring that the records remain intact for future users. Their physical protection is the main motivation behind arrangements (or not) for reproduction.
As far as copyright is concerned, it is the responsibility of genealogists to know and observe the law. Since Canadian copyright law with regards to archival materials is far-reaching, this may cause some difficulties. It may be that we think the law has been formulated in an unrealistic way. No matter, it remains the law and researchers will find that archivists intend to stick by it. They should also.
Many archives will now have websites which genealogists can use to obtain information about their collections, location, policies and for contacting purposes. Here are some things to look for:
- opening hours, special closings, accessibility
- registration requirements
- orientation services or programs
- researcher services including the possible existence of professional consultations
- reproduction services
- lists of contract researchers for those who cannot visit, or research services offered by the archives itself
- interlibrary and inter-institutional lending
- links to related institutions and collections, or to useful lists
- discussion of special collections in the archives
- online finding aids or searchable databases
- forms for obtaining various kinds of documents (in particular, civil registration documents)
- online versions of introductory or explanatory brochures and information leaflets
- news about the archives: new collections added, changes in policy • means of contacting the archives
- ↑ That is, with fewer possibilities of harming the document
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