Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Two Tips for Searching the Holdings of Two Canadian Archives from their Websites

In the process of writing about some more online resources for early Ontario I realized my article/post would be better split up into at least two but maybe three articles/posts. Here's the first of those articles/posts.

I don't know about you but I find most online catalogs for the holdings of libraries fairly easy to search. There are enough clearly labeled, understandable search filters in order to make the search engine do what you want it to do -- find meaningful results. But when it comes to the online search/databases for the holdings of archives I seem to pull out more hair than results. These particular search engines do not seem to be so public-friendly.

Here are two things I learned to draw some results out instead of hair. Of course, if items have not been added to the online catalog by the archive/library no amount of searching will find them.

Do you want to find out what the Archives of Ontario has that is from other libraries/archives, such as the Library and Archives of Canada or elsewhere? Knowing this could save you a trip, or allow you to spend more time on collections not available by other means.

Archives of Ontario
At the Archives of Ontario website's Archives Descriptive Database, go to the Advanced Search and use the "Search Groups of Archival Records" option. Once there, change the Levels of Description from "All Levels" to "Diffusion Microfilm" option. (Duplicated items from other libraries/archives are often on microfilm.) If you want to see results from any location leave all other filter fields blank and hit search. As of yesterday, this gave me 401 results of items that originate from the holdings of other libraries/archives/entities.

Want to see what items came from just a particular place? Along with "Diffusion Microfilm" for the Levels of Description, enter that particular place in the keyword field. The trick to this is knowing/realizing what name the Archives of Ontario used for that originating entity. In the case of the Library and Archives of Ontario, enter "National Archives of Canada" in the keyword field. As of yesterday, this gave me 55 results.

I knew I had used some materials during my 2012 Archives of Ontario visit that are now digitized by the Library and Archives of Canada, I just needed to find the online description to confirm it and searching by item name was not working. (I will not say how long this took for me to solve.)

I am not positive if the Archives of Ontario has any items from the Library portion of the Library and Archives of Canada or not. If the Archives of Ontario does, you should find them in the non-specific "Diffusion Microfilm" search. Once you learn how the Archives of Ontario named the originating entity you can revise your search to just focus on that one place.

Do you want to know an alternate way to bring a description up for a collection? This might not work everywhere but there might be a similar cataloging feature that works in your favor.

Library and Archives of Canada
Now over at the Library and Archives of Canada's website, I was having a problem bringing up a collection description in the Archives Search. From the online digitized microfilm description information I tried the RG number, I tried the name of the collection and nothing was working.

So then I realized that the online digitized microfilm description showed a MIKAN number. I seem to have remembered this number was unique and sure enough under the Archives Search using Advanced Search I could change the "any keyword" to "MIKAN number" and enter just the MIKAN number to find the description result I wanted.

I wondered what exactly a MIKAN number was so I searched for the answer. From one of the results -- the LAC's own blog site, I learned that "MIKAN is a computer system for searching, creating, and modifying information about archival materials." The MIKAN system automatically assigns a unique record number to a record at all levels of description (fonds, series, accession, file, item.) It gets placed on everything because it is mandatory field. I don't know if the MIKAN system is used by all (or just some) Canadian archives, or if other archives elsewhere use it or a similar system. Regardless, I doubt a MIKAN number for an item at one facility would be the same at another.

I think part of the problem I was having in this case is that the online collection name does not always exactly match the collection name in the holdings. Another problem is that quite a few of the Archives descriptions appear to be in the process of revision.

So if you are having problems searching a catalog, take a moment to study the advanced search interface to see if you can determine what filter fields you have to work with and try an alternate method. Of course, see if there are any help guides or videos available to view. If these do not hold your answers, often there is a way you can contact a library/archive staff representative and ask a question. But you may need to wait for an answer, especially if you are searching after hours.

Hopefully tomorrow I will post the article I intended to write.

©2016 All Rights Reserved, goneresearching. All text and photos in this post are copyrighted & owned by me (goneresearching) unless indicated otherwise. No republication (commercial or non-commercial) without prior permission. You may share (tell others) of this blog as long as you give credit and link to this site (not by downloading or copying any post). Thank you.


  1. Your research time has been of considerable help to me! Thank you so much for your dedication to assisting others who enjoy this fantastic hobby. You have a beautiful spirit!!

  2. First step - where is Advanced Search??

    1. You did not specify on which website you could not locate Advanced Search.

      On Archives of Ontario home page: 1. In left column of page links, click on “Accessing Our Collection” 2. Then on the resulting page, center column click “Archives Descriptive Database.” 3. On resulting page scroll down just a tad to “Option 3 Advanced Search” 4. Then on the resulting page, click on “Search Groups of Archival Records.” You are now on the page I talked about.

      On the Library and Archives of Canada homepage, 1. On the page links just above the changing graphic image hold your mouse over “Online Search” and from the list of pages the pop-up click on “Archives Search” 2. On the resulting Archives Search page, in the left hand column under “Archives Search” click on “Advanced.” You should now have more search filters to choose from like in the image.

      I hope this helps.