Tips for searching
- Start with the obvious.
- Example: If you're looking for general information about Montreal, type montreal.
- Use multiple search terms.
- Example: If you're searching Montreal Canadiens, type montreal canadiens, rather than just montreal or canadiens by itself.
- Type your search in either uppercase or lowercase.
- Example: Typing paula martin returns the same results as Paula Martin or PAULA MARTIN.
- Use an asterisk (*) to replace one or many characters in a search term.
- Example: Type Wilfr*d, to get both Wilfrid and Wilfred.
- Example: Type patriot*, to get results with patriote, patriots, patriotism, patriotic, patriotique, patriotisme, etc.
If you get too many results
- Make your search more specific.
- Example: Search for montreal molson centre rather than montreal arena.
- Use quotation marks if you want results for an exact phrase.
- Example: The search, "paula martin" does not find Paula Andrea Martin.
Glossary of Terms
A group of records or archives from the same entity (source), with the same place of origin or history (provenance), accepted all at once as holdings in an archival repository.
Accessioning is the formal process of accepting materials, which receive a unique, permanent accession number for basic archival control.
- Archival record
Public or private materials that a person, a family, or an organization creates or receives over time, which are preserved because of their enduring value or as evidence of their creator’s functions and responsibilities. Archival records are unique and irreplaceable.
- Arrangement structure
The intellectual and physical organization of an archive.
The documents of an archive, called fonds or collections, are arranged in a hierarchy—from general to specific—that is, from the fonds level to the item level:
(Sous-fonds—if it exists)
(Sub-series—if it exists)
(This information can be found in Finding Aids)
The person(s), family (families), corporate or government body (bodies) who created, or accumulated and used a collection of documents or archives during the course of personal or business life.
- Conditions of access
Access restrictions (identified by an access code) indicating whether documents may or may not be consulted for research and reproduction purposes.
More about access codes in Access Codes for Archival Records at Library and Archives Canada.
- Edition statement
The part of a catalogue entry relating to an edition of a book catalogued.
The amount of material found within a fonds expressed as a number—for example, a number of pages, a number of items, a number of linear metres.
- Finding aids
Tools to help access archival material; they include descriptive inventories, guides, accession registers, card catalogues, shelf lists, and automated databases.
More about finding aids.
The body of records and archives of an organization, an institution, or a person, in any medium, created and accumulated during the course of activities and functions.
- Item (linked) part of
A level of archival arrangement and description. A unit of handling.
- Language of material
The original language of the archival material.
- MIKAN no.
An automated record number assigned upon entry to all archival descriptions by the Library and Archives Canada MIKAN database system.
A MIKAN number is different from an archival reference number and should not be used for the purposes of purchasing a reproduction or ordering material for consultation.
The owners or guardians—person(s), family (families), corporate or government body (bodies)—of a collection of documents or archives before its formal transfer to and acquisition by an archival repository.
- Reference no.
A formal alphanumeric code assigned to an archival fonds or collection, for example, MG26-A Sir John A. Macdonald fonds or RG24 Department of National Defence fonds.
More examples of archival reference numbers.
The origin of acquired material, usually private or public (government).
Word(s) designating an intellectual work or archival document. There are two types of titles: formal titles and supplied titles.
Formal titles appear prominently in or on the documents being described; are usually assigned to the document by the creator; and are considered authoritative.
Supplied titles are assigned when no formal title is present; may be taken from evidentiary information found within the document, or an external source; may be composed by an archivist; usually appear between [square brackets]; and are an informed guess rather than authoritative.
Search All enables you to search the resources of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) all at once, or you can limit your search to an individual search type.
- Library Search provides options for searching the published materials held at LAC.
- Archives Search provides options for searching descriptions of archival material in LAC holdings which includes text, photographs, icons, audio, philately, cartography, architectural documents and other materials.
- Image Search provides options for keyword searching of images in the archival holdings.
How to start a search
- In the search box, enter one or more words that best describe the information that you want.
- Press Enter or click the Search button.
- In response to your search, you will see a list of the most relevant results. The results include library, archives and image search items.
Search All Results
The Search All Results page shows the items found by your search. The five most relevant items from each of the search types (Library, Archives, Image) are listed first.
For more information about an item, click its title.
To see all the items in a particular search type, click Show All. For example, clicking Show All in the Library Search shows all the Library results for your search. The results are presented with the most relevant items on top.
Library Search enables you to search for published materials held at LAC.
What is included in Library Search
Library Search contains listings for books, magazines, newspapers, government publications, theses, sound recordings, maps, electronic texts, as well as items in braille and large print.
Library Search Results
The Library Search Results page shows the library items found by your search. For each result, you will see the title (underlined), author, birth and death dates of the author, date of publication, whether the material can be found online (if applicable), and whether the item is available from LAC.
The results are sorted to list the most relevant items at the top.
You can sort and limit your search results by using the options on the right side of the screen. For example, you can sort the results by title, and then limit the results by format, such as online.
Archives Search enables you to search descriptions of archival holdings at LAC consisting of millions of texts, photographs, icons, audio, philately, cartography, and architectural materials. It is organized by fonds, collections (which are subdivided into sous-fonds, series, sub-series, sub-sub-series, files and items) and accessions, which reflect the activities and functions of a person, family or organization.
What is included in Archives Search
The following archival research tools are searchable in Archives Search:
- General Inventory
- Government of Canada Files
- Métis Scrip
- War Diaries of the First World War
- Prime Ministers' Fonds
What is not included in Archives Search
For a list of archival research tools that are not included in the Archives Search and must be searched individually, see Databases.
Archives Search Results
The Archives Search Results page shows the descriptions of archival material found by your search. For each result, you see the title, type of material, creator or provenance, dates of creation, extent, level of description, and whether the material can be found online.
The results are sorted to list the most relevant items at the top.
You can sort and limit your search results by using the options on the right side of the screen. For example, you can sort the results by title, and then limit the results by format, such as maps.
Image Search enables you to search for digital images of archival material in the LAC's holdings. A thumbnail is displayed for each search result.
How to start a search
- Enter one or more keywords into the Any Keywords field.
- Optional: In the Type of Material field, select an option from the drop-down list to narrow your search.
- Click the Submit button.
How to interpret the results
Each item on the Archives Image Search Result page shows:
- the title of the record
- the MIKAN number, which you can click to access the full description of the record in a new window
- thumbnail(s) of the image.
How to view an image
- Click a thumbnail to enlarge it.
- A navigation toolbar is displayed at the bottom of the enlarged image.
- To view the next image, select the forward arrow at the far right of the toolbar.
- To view the previous image, select the back arrow at the far left of the toolbar.
- To zoom in and out of the image, select the arrow at the centre of the toolbar. You can also zoom in and out by using your mouse wheel.
- To close an image and return to the search results page, select the "X" button located in the top right corner of the image screen.
- An archival description containing multiple images will display a thumbnail set of the first 24 images. The total number of images associated with that description will be indicated at the bottom of the image set. To view and navigate the rest of this image set, select the arrow following the text Continue viewing this series of images
Did you know that the concept of the finding aid dates back to the very origins of archives? The ancient Sumerians created finding aids on clay tablets so that they could locate specific bureaucratic documents. We have moved a long way from the clay tablet, but the principles of the finding aid remain the same.
An archive contains all of the documents created and used by a person, family, government institution, or corporate body in the course of that creator’s activities or functions. Generally called fonds or collections, the documents of an archive are arranged in a hierarchy, from the general to the specific. In other words, from the fonds level to the item level:
(Sous-fonds—if it exists)
(Sub-series—if it exists)
If you have never used an archive before, you may wish to consult the guide Using Archives: A Practical Guide for Researchers for more information.
Finding aids are tools that provide information about the archival documents held in a fonds or a collection. While finding aids can take many forms, they are generally used in the same way. Researchers use finding aids to help determine whether a certain fonds or collection of archival materials contains the documents, photographs, etc. that they might need to consult for their research project. Finding aids are created for fonds or collections but can also be created for series and sub-series of very large fonds or collections.
One of the most common types of finding aid is the content list. It typically provides general file-level reference information and contains the following elements:
- Archival fonds orcollection code (i.e.,MG26-A or RG10)
- Volume or box numbers
- File number (and sometimes a file part number)
- File title
- Date of creation or date range of documents held within a file
It does not provide content listings of all the documents in each file.
In Archives Search, a content-list finding aid for a fonds or a collection can appear in a number of ways:
It can be attached to the fonds-level description as a portable document format (.pdf file). This is generally true for collections or materials acquired from private individuals (usually identified by collection codes beginning with “MSS”) as in the example below:
It may also be accessed by clicking on the hyperlinked number found beside the “consists of” text. This is generally true for collections of materials acquired from government departments (usually identified by collection codes beginning with “RG”).
Sometimes the content list is only identified by a number in the text paragraph, which can be found beside the Finding aid field label in a fonds, collection, series or sub-series description.
Content lists simply identified by number generally exist in paper format only and must be consulted in person (or copies must be obtained). Numbers beginning with MSS (e.g., MSS0211) most often refer to content lists for collections or materials acquired from private individuals. Finding aids composed of numbers separated by a hyphen (e.g., 12-13) usually refer to content lists for collections of materials acquired from government departments.
For a percentage of our collection, there are no content lists available. For example, lists are not created for collections of less than 10 boxes of material. Many photographic and cartographic collections do not have content lists. Some older holdings of government documents also lack content lists.
Not everything is available online; for some fonds or collections, the content list exists in paper format only, and must be consulted in person. You may also order copies of material by following the instructions outlined in our post “How to Order Digitized Reproductions and Help Build the Digital Collection”.
Access Codes for Archival Records
Have you ever ordered an archival record only to find out that it is restricted? Archival records may be subject to access restrictions. To find out if a record is open or restricted, you must identify its access code. When you are in the Archives Search database, you can find these codes in the “Conditions of access” section of records descriptions (see image below):
The most common access codes are 90, 32, 18 and 10.
Open Records (code 90)
Any records that are unrestricted and directly available for consultation are marked as “90: Open.”
Government Records (code 32)
Some government records must be reviewed according to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act beforebeing made available. Records restricted under these laws are identified as “32: Restricted by law.” For an example, please consult the Operational records of Prairie Northern Region record description.
To request restricted government records, follow the instructions on our Access to Information and Privacy page, How to make a request.
Private Records (codes 18 and 10)
Records that are “18: Restricted” can be accessed through an application procedure established by the donor. These restrictions affect what you can consult, as well as what you can copy.
Records that are “10: Closed” cannot be consulted. In some cases, restrictions on closed records are set to be reviewed after a date specified by the donor.
To find out what files are restricted in a private fonds, consult the PDF document linked under “Conditions of Access” in the fonds description. For an example of this type of document, please see the Lester B. Pearson fonds description.
Restrictions vary (Code 96)
Access code 96 indicates that within a group of records there exists more than one type of access condition. For example, since the Department of Transportation fonds (RG12) contains records that are open (code 90) and others that are restricted (code 32), the fonds-level access condition are indicated by “restrictions vary” (code 96).
Access code 96 can be applied to more than just fonds-level descriptions. It can also be linked to series, sub-series and accessions. However, it does not apply to individual volumes and files.
Access code 96 usually means that there are more specific descriptions available for the records you are researching. In some cases, these records can be accessed by simply clicking on the “lower level descriptions” link in the “Fonds consists of” section of a record description.
In other cases it will be necessary to consult a printed finding aid. To learn more, read Finding Aids.
To be determined / closed pending processing (Code 99)
Access code 99 means that the access conditions for a group of records have yet to be determined. Usually this is because the records are being processed. In the following example, while the photographic material is open, the access conditions for the textual records have yet to be determined:
Open, no copying (Code 95)
Access code 95 indicates that the records are open and can be consulted, however, at the request of the donor, the records cannot be copied or reproduced.