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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 ($).


Two Examples of Finding Aids

Example I

Fonds F838 at the Archives of Ontario concerns the Orange Lodge no. 108, Percy Township (Northumberland County); the finding aid was created by Ed Vermue.[1]

Part 1: Historical sketch of the Orange Lodge in general, followed by specifics of this chapter which includes:

  • geography
  • background of Percy township
  • its settlement
  • bibliographical references

Part 2: Custodial history, including who created the fonds, that it was given to the Archives of Ontario in 1985, its accession number.

Part 3: Scope and contents, including description of materials, the kinds of things that are included, the time period.

  • The archivist listing the collection may make observations which will assist the researcher in using the materials intelligently. Reading the scope and contents note carefully will ensure that the researcher takes advantage of this assistance. Here is a good example from this finding aid:
  • “The records of Loyal Orange Lodge #108 are complex, not only do materials within the fonds (e.g. minute books or cash books) frequently reflect more than one function, the information is not chronologically set down, and it may require a page by page examination of a volume to be certain that a particular date has not been overlooked."
  • Collections should be kept as near as possible to the form they had when they came to the archives, that is, as the creator made them. If there are changes, then these must be noted.
  • Any restrictions on use will be found here.

Part 4: Detailed listing of materials with call numbers, including name and date. Further scope and contents notes may be listed here. They may also be interpretative; on page 7 of this finding aid, there is a note on decision-making procedures in the Orange Lodge which would help researchers in understanding the bylaws.

  • There is a ‘miscellaneous papers’ section, not unusual in collections which contain many things. There are always some extra papers in the collections of organizations, for example, which can only be placed here. Genealogists should always have a careful look at these sections as they often contain material on or by individuals, who may well be family members.
  • It is here that we find a note: “Two large and unique certificates were removed for encapsulation at the time of this arrangement so they could be stored flat without damaging….” This is a good example of the changes in arrangement mention under Part 3 above, which must be noted. As we can see, the change was necessary for the good health of the collection, but the missing parts can easily be located.

Part 5: Tracings, or the listing of subject headings and principal entry in the cataloguing of the fonds.

Example II

Fonds F1635 at the Archives of Ontario consists of municipal records for the Township of East Whitby.

Part 1: Date of creation, 1859-1970.

Part 2: Physical description (this details the space occupied by the collection, usually in metres).

Part 3: Administrative history, in this case of some importance as municipal boundaries changed over the 110 years covered by the collection.

Part 4: Immediate source of acquisition.

Part 5: Scope and contents: the contents of this collection is discussed later in the course materials.

Part 6: Availability of other formats: some of this collection is available on microfilm.

Part 7: Access restrictions: contents of this collection may be affected by privacy acts. Those parts of the collection available on microfilm are not accessible in the original paper format. [This rule is usual in all archives. The creation of microfilm copies is meant to facilitate the preservation of the paper originals.]

Part 8: Terms governing use: i.e. copyright.

Part 9: Detailed box and file list.

Part 10: Related records: in this case, materials from the County of Ontario. Looking at a section on related records could be of considerable use to researchers, especially in large institutions where it is impossible to tell where similar materials might be. In this case, records from two layers of municipalities may both have materials of use to genealogists.

Part 11: How to order records (standard in all finding aids for this institution).


  1. Quotations from these finding aids are printed here by permission of the Archives of Ontario


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  • This page was last modified on 27 September 2014, at 17:49.
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