Glossary

This glossary provides a brief guide to the terms we use on the Archives Hub website, or that you might find in an archival description.

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A

Access Conditions
Within an archival description, this provides information about anything that might affect the availability or usability of the materials being described. This will include details of any restrictions on access imposed by the donor or the repository, or any legal restrictions. Access conditions might tell you if you need to contact the repository to make an appointment, or take ID to register as a user. If the access conditions say 'open', there should be no restrictions on accessing the material, but you may wish to contact the repository before your visit to confirm that the material you're interested in is available. You can find contact details for repositories through The National Archives ARCHON directory.
Access Points
These are names, places and subjects, acting as index terms or keywords for searching and browsing on the Archives Hub. Access Points on the Archives Hub are links which you can click on to see more descriptions with the same index term. This can help you to find other archival descriptions which mention the same people, places, or subjects.
Accruals
As part of an archival description, the 'accruals' section tells you about any expected additions to the collection. This might be material which hasn't been created yet (such as the current year's administrative records for an institution), or material which is held elsewhere.
Administrative/Biographical History
As part of an archival description, this provides biographical or historical details about the creator or creators of the collection. This can help to give you historical context for the material, and provide extra details to allow you to identify people with similar names.
Appraisal
Within an archival description, this provides information about how the archival materials were assessed by the archivist.
Archival description
A catalogue or finding aid for a collection of archival material. The archival description should always tell you at least: the title of the collection; the collection's reference code; where the materials are located (repository); the dates, date range, or approximate dates of the material; who created the collection (name of creator); what sorts of material or information the collection contains (scope and content); whether there are restrictions on accessing the collection (access conditions); the language of the material; and how much material is in the collection (extent). Some descriptions may contain more information than this.
Archivist's note
Some of the archival descriptions on the Hub may include an Archivist's Note, which provides information about who created the description, and what resources they may have used.
ARCHON
A directory of repositories maintained by The National Archives. The ARCHON directory provides a unique reference number for each repository, and contains contact details, opening hours, and access information for each repository.

C

c. ca ., circa
'About'. As part of an archival description, used to indicate an approximate date or quantity.
Calendar
Archivists sometimes use this word for an inventory of items in a collection that are listed chronologically.
Collection
Documents or material of any kind brought together and kept as a unit in an archival repository. Sometimes the term fonds may be used for a collection of material created by an individual person or organisation, and the term 'artificial collection' may be preferred for archival material brought together by a collector or a repository. A collection may be a single item (letter, diary, film etc), or it may be made up of many items. The extent will tell you how big the collection is.
Collection description
A document describing the material within an archival collection and providing essential information about the collection. Often also called an archival description, a catalogue, or a finding aid.
Collection-level
This describes a description that summarises general information about the archival material in a collection, without details of individual items.
Component
The information in multi-level archival descriptions is organised into individual components. Components may describe single items (such as a letter) or multiple items (such as a several letters to/from the same people). Descriptions may sometimes be referred to as 'component-level', in contrast to collection-level.
Copyright/Reproduction
In archival descriptions, the 'copyright/reproduction' statement provides information about whether you may copy, quote, or publish material from within the archival collection. There may be limitations imposed by the collection's donor, or there may be legal restrictions on the use of the material. This will often include information about copyright of the material.
Corporate Names
In the Access Points section of a description, a Corporate Name identifies a particular group of people or organisation. Examples include businesses, clubs and societies, religious bodies, and government agencies. Corporate Names are also used for ships and conferences.
Creation Information
In descriptions on the Archives Hub, this usually appears under the heading 'Cataloguing Info', and provides information about how the description was created, and who is responsible for it.
Custodial History
In an archival description, this outlines the 'chain of ownership' or 'provenance' of the material in the collection - who has owned it, and how it came to be acquired by the repository.

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D

Dates of Creation
In an archival description, this shows either the date (or dates) when the material was accumulated by the creator of the collection, or the date (or dates) when the documents themselves were created - including if this was before they became part of the collection.
Description
A document which describes and explains the content and context of a collection of archival material. See also Collection description, Archival description.
Digital object
A digital object is a digital version of some or all of the material in an archive collection. This may be a digital surrogate, or it might be born-digital material, such as a digital photograph or mp3 recording. Digital objects are often available online.
Digital surrogate
Electronic or digitised copy of an original document, photograph, or other material. Digital surrogates are often used if the original item is fragile or inaccessible.

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E

Embedded image
A digital image included as a thumbnail within a collection description.
Epithet
When indexing, a descriptive word or phrase may be added to a person's name. For instance, in the index term for Stanley Kubrick: Kubrick Stanley 1928-1999 film director, 'film director' is the epithet. This can help to provide more information about the person, and help you to distinguish between people with similar names.
Extent
In an archival description, this provides information about the quantity of materials in the collection, or the physical space they occupy. This information can help you to decide how long to allow for a visit to the archive.

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F

File list
A form of finding aid for an archival collection. This goes into more detail than a collection-level description.
Finding aid
A description of an archival collection. If there are alternative or additional finding aids to the one that appears on the Archives Hub, there will be information about these under the heading 'Other Finding Aids'.
fl.
Abbreviation for 'floruit'. If the cataloguer doesn't know either the birth or death date of a person, then they can use archival material being described toprovide a date when its creator 'flourished', in the sense that they were active at that time. For instance, the dates for Gillespie Alexander fl 1662-1685 mariner are taken from the only information the cataloguer had about him: his diary for the same years.
Fonds
In a collection description, 'fonds' is a term often used by archivists for the material created or collected by a particular person, family, or organisation in the course of their activities, in order to distinguish this type of collection from an artificial collection.

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G

Genre/Form
When indexing for an archival description's Access Points, this may be used to provide information about the kind of materials in a collection.

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H

Handlist
A form of finding aid for an archival collection. This is a list for easy reference.
Held at
In an archival description, this provides the name of the repository where a collection is kept.
Higher-level description
This is a description for an archival collection that provides a general overview of the collection, without going into details of individual items. For a multi-level description, the higher level can be seen as the 'parent' of lower-level descriptions or components .
Holograph
A document in the author's own handwriting.

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I

Immediate Source of Acquisition
This explains how the archival collection came into the care of the repository.
Item-level
In a description of an archival collection, this is the smallest unit of a description, usually with details of a single document, such as a letter, photograph, or report.

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K

L

Language of Material
In an archival description, this shows the language (or languages) of the material in the collection being described.
Lower-level description
For an archival description, this is information in addition to the broader overview or higher level description. The amount of detail may depend on how the archiival collection is organized into groupings or levels. See also subfonds, series, item-level.

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M

Multi-level
A collection description may go into more detail than a general overview. Some descriptions include information at lower levels of organisation, right down to the level of individual items. These are known as multi-level descriptions. See also subfonds, item-level.

N

Name of Creator
In an archival description, this is the name of the individual or individuals, family, or organisation that is responsible for the creation or the accumulation of the materials in the collection.
National Archives
See TNA
NRA
National Register of Archives. The NRA is maintained by the The National Archives and contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records in the UK.The NRA also maintains Name Authority Files, a list of names in their preferred form which may be used to provide Access Points in an archival description.

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P

Persistent Unique Identifier
Each archival description on the Archives Hub has a permanent web address. This can be used to bookmark or link to the description..
Physical Characteristics
For an archival description, this provides details of the material in the archival collection, regarding the appearance of the materials, or any physical qualities which might affect the accessibility or usability of the materials.
Preferred Citation
For an archival description, this provides the recommended form of words for identifying a collection when referring to it in a bibliography or other formal document.
Processing Information
For an archival description, details may be provided under this heading about how the archival materials have been stored, preserved, or arranged, or how their description has been prepared.
Provenance
For an archival description, details are usually provided about the 'chain of ownership' of the materials in a collection. These details appear under the headings Custodial History and Immediate Source of Acquisition.
Publication Note
In an archival description, this provides details of publications which are based on, or written about, material in the collection, or which may be of value to researchers using the collection.

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R

Record
The documents within an archival collection may be known as records. Archival descriptions in the Archives Hub's database are also known as records.
Reference Code
Each archival collection described on the Archives Hub has a unique code to identify it, often a name or a sequence of numbers, or a combination of both.
Related Units of Description
In an archival description, details are provided under this heading about materials which are not part of the archival collection being described, but which may be useful to you. This might include material which is held by another repository.
Repository
This is the archives, library, or special collections, where an archival collection is stored. See also ARCHON.
Revisions
In an archival description, details of amendments or updates to the description itself are included under this heading.

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S

s.d.
'Sine die', without a date. Sometimes used by cataloguers when the date of creation has not been indicated or is not known.
s.l.
'Sine loco', without place. Sometimes used by cataloguers when the place of publication has not been indicated or is not known.
Scope and Content
This summarises the range of the materials being described, allowing you to judge the potential relevance of the archival collection. This should provide a general overview of the subjects covered, and highlight significant individuals, organisations, or events represented in the collection.
Series
In an archival description this may refer to materials grouped together because they are of a similar type or because they were originally arranged together. See also System of Arrangement, Lower-level description.
Sponsor
In an archival description, this provides details of the individual or organisation who has financed the acquisition, processing or cataloguing of the collection being described.
Subfonds
In an archival description, this provides more detailed information than the general overview of a higher-level or fonds-level description, but not yet with details of individual items. A subfonds refers to a subdivision in the archival material - for example, one subfonds might be a large group of documents created by an administrative subdivision of an organisation.
Subject
In an archival description, the link here leads to a list of other collections which also include the same Subject in their Access Points section. A Subject is a particular topic or theme, rather than the name of a person, family, organisation, or place.
Subject Finder
One of the ways to search the descriptions on the Archives Hub. This online form searches for descriptions with Access Points relevant to your search.
System of Arrangement
In an archival description, this provides information on the physical or logical ordering of the material in the collection being described. The material may, for example, be arranged alphabetically by title, in date order, or by some classification scheme. This should include details of any changes to original the arrangement made by the archivist.

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T

Thumbnail
A small version of a digital image, generally used as a link to a larger version.
The National Archives
See TNA
TNA
The National Archives. The official archive of the UK Government, TNA also maintains a central national archive for England and Wales. The National Archives provides information about individual collections - and collections held by other repositories - through the NRA. The TNA also maintains information about other repositories through its ARCHON directory.

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W

Weeding
This is one of the ways by which an archival collection may be organised. Often an archivist may decide to remove duplicate or damaged documents from a collection, and they would usually include details of this process in their archival description.

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