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How do I use the online search?

The National Archives uses Adlib software to manage its online catalogue. This is a specialised program for archives that ensures certain information is captured in accordance with the General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G), the aim of which is to standardise entries to make them as useful as possible to researchers. This includes a unique reference code, a document title, covering dates and further detailed descriptions or information, where necessary.

The Search the Archives facility allows researchers to undertake a Simple Search and an Advanced Search.

Simple Search

The Simple Search allows researchers to undertake a keyword search across the entire online catalogue. It is most useful if researchers are looking for one specific item, such as the Calendar of Wills 1924, which will return a link to a pdf of the calendar or index to wills granted in 1924. It can be less useful if researchers are looking for more specific details or using a word or phrase that may be found in many file titles. In such cases, the Advanced Search should be used instead.

Advanced Search

The Advanced Search allows researchers to search fields using ‘Word(s) from title’, ‘Word(s) from scope & content’, ‘Reference code’, ‘Archive creator’, ‘Year from’ and ‘Year until’.

If a researcher wishes to limit their search, ‘Word(s) from title’, ‘Word(s) from scope & content’, ‘Archive creator’ and ‘Reference code’ are the most useful search categories.

Search fields

Word(s) from title is a keyword search of the file title. Archives are listed by file title, which may be a subject, a place or a name of an individual in the case of testamentary records. It is necessary for researchers to think laterally about what a file may have been called or what terminology would have been used when the record was created in a government department or court office.

Terminology used in file titles often reflects the social and political atmosphere of the time. It is useful to consider the files in the period in which they were created. The use of terms now considered politically incorrect, such as lunatic or wedlock, would have been common place at a particular time in history and may have been used when referring to mental health policy or social issues, for example.

Word(s) from scope & content is a keyword search of the expanded description of the document in question, and may provide further information about its contents. This search can be useful for limiting a search or for finding a document that would not otherwise be obvious from the file title.

Reference code is the unique code of the individual document or series of associated documents. A reference code may be numeric (only numbers) or alpha-numeric (a combination of numbers and letters). From 2000 onwards, all reference codes are in numeric format and comprise three parts. For example, 2015/77/86 refers to file 86 from the Office of the Secretary General to the President, which was the 77th transfer in 2015. Older material may be in alpha-numeric format. For example, CSO/RP/1822/17 refers to file 17 from the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers for 1822.

It is necessary to provide a unique reference code to every record transferred to the National Archives to protect the security of the document and to avoid duplication of numbers that can lead to unnecessary complications and confusion for researchers and staff alike.

Archive creator is the body from which the archive in question was transferred. The National Archives holds archives from government departments, the courts and various public bodies listed in the schedule to the National Archives Act, 1986. Our holdings also include many business and private collections deposited by private bodies and individuals. This function is very useful for limiting a search to a particular body. For example, if a researcher is looking for a file from the Department of the Taoiseach they can limit the search to this specific department by choosing it from the list that appears on the right hand side of the page beside the Archive creator field.

Year from and Year until allow users to search according to specific dates using the following options in the drop-down box:
Between: input a date in the ‘from’ and ‘to’ boxes to search a particular record date span, for example ‘1970–1980’.
=: searches the catalogue for a specific year, for example ‘1975’.
<: inputting ‘1975’ searches the catalogue for records pre 1975 but excludes 1975 itself.
>: inputting ‘1975’ searches the catalogue for records post 1975 but excludes 1975 itself.
<=: inputting ‘1975’ searches the catalogue for records pre 1975 and includes 1975 itself.
>=: inputting ‘1975’ searches the catalogue for records post 1975 and includes 1975 itself.

Narrowing a search

The Advanced Search option allows users to narrow and limit the scope of a search by using multiple fields. For example, researchers can search by ‘Word(s) from title’ or ‘Word(s) from scope & content’, but narrow this search to ‘Reference code’ or ‘Archive creator’ or ‘Year from’ or ‘Year until’ by filling in these fields.

Expanding a search

It is recommended to keep the ‘Trunc.’ box ticked to return more search results.

Untick to search for a specific item.

What records will I find in the online catalogue?

The online catalogue contains over 2 million entries. The vast majority of entries relate to departmental records, modern court records and testamentary material. All files transferred from government departments in recent years are listed to a high standard and are uploaded to the catalogue once editing is completed. We have also been working hard to update and standardise many older finding aids so that they can be included in the catalogue. This work is extremely time consuming and labour intensive, however.

What records will I not find in the online catalogue?

In general, it is necessary to consult traditional hard copy finding aids to older 19th and early 20th century material held in the National Archives. This may include material transferred prior to the introduction of the online catalogue, including public bodies such as the Ordnance Survey, Valuation Office and the Office of Public Works, older court records, some archives of the Commissioners of National Education and the vast majority of private and business collections.

I know the National Archives holds the records I am looking for but an online search returns nothing?

The finding aids to many collections do not meet the necessary criteria for inclusion in the online catalogue. The National Archives is continually working to update these lists, work that is extremely time consuming and labour intensive. In the meantime, hardcopy finding aids to listed collections are available in our Reading Room and specific queries can be directed to the Archivist on Duty (Monday–Friday, 9.15–17.00) or to mail@nationalarchives.ie.

Any other advice?

Where a researcher is unable to locate information in the online catalogue, it is advisable to search the hard copy finding aids located in the Reading Room. Often, a series of related files may be listed together in the hard copy version but a keyword search will not necessarily make this connection. This approach is also advisable where a research topic may be vague or where researchers are unfamiliar with the administrative history of the Irish State.