Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Women's History Month 2013: Finding Aids

Resources for Researching Your Female Ancestor, Day # 27

One resource I have stressed in my presentations and writings  is manuscript collections. These archival collections of documents from individuals and groups are an invaluable source for family historians.  In my list of links found at the top of my blog, I've provided websites to find manuscript collections including  NUCMC and ArchiveGrid. For now, let's discuss an important aspect of  researching these collections, using Finding Aids.

According to Wikipedia, a finding aid is:

a document containing detailed information about a specific collection of papers or records within an archive. Finding aids are used by researchers to determine whether information within a collection is relevant to their research. (

So simply, a manuscript collection may be titled "Eliza Smith Civil War Diary" and then the finding aid will provide more information about the quantity of the collection and what it includes. By reading a finding aid you can learn more about how it can (or cannot) benefit your research. Some finding aids can be quite lengthy and others may be more brief.

So let's look at one example of a finding aid from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Library. The Chicago Women's Aid Records 1903-1988 shows a diverse range of documents that make up the collection. If your female ancestor was  a member of this group you may find a mention of her membership but your would also learn important social history details that would enhance your writings about her life.

To learn more about using finding aids in your family history research, check out  Madaleine Laird's blog KinfoLit  and  her post, Found in a Finding Aid: Evidence of a Relationship


Marti said...

Do you usually find an index for these in larger libraries?

Gena Philibert-Ortega said...


Finding aids are written by a librarian or archivist to help patrons better understand a collection. So yes, these could be found in a larger library or archive. And by "larger library" that could mean an academic library or really any library with manuscript collections.

Each repository has finding aids for their own collection. An individual repository might have an index for all the finding aids that they have written. You may find these on their website or by asking the librarian or archivist.

Thanks for reading my blog and commenting.