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Archives: How to Find Archives

This is a guide to finding archival resources at Pacific University, as well as for Pacific University students to find archives at other institutions.

Important Reminders

 When you get ready to start research, remember:

  1. About 99% of the time, archival collections themselves are not online. Only the descriptions of the collections are online.  

  2. Archives are arranged into collections, and collections are sorted into series. Understanding how an archival collection is arranged will help you to find the right material. (See: How are Archives Arranged)

  3. When you search the internet for archives, you will actually be searching within the text of Finding Aids and Inventories. It's helpful to know what information goes into these records. (See: Descriptions of Archives)

Search Strategies

Start by thinking of some keywords and limits for your searches. Good things to use as search parameters include:

  • Proper names. Having the name of the creator of the sources you need is usually the most efficient way to find them.
  • Places, especially city or state names. Country names can work, but are a little less likely to appear in records.
  • If researching in a language other than English, use that language as a keyword, e.g.: French
  • Genres of material, for example: letters, records, photographs, diaries, manuscripts, interviews.
  • Date ranges. Think of when the material would have been created.
  • A word of caution about using subject keywords: searching by subject is hit-or-miss, because subjects often either are not recorded, or are recorded in a way other than how you would expect. Try to use broad terms and combine them with the types of terms listed above.

Pacific archivists are also ready and willing to help, even with non-Pacific collections! Feel free to email your questions to:

Places to Search

Search for archival material at Pacific University:

Places in Oregon beyond Pacific University:

  • Archives West
    This site allows you to search across about 30 archives in the Pacific Northwest, including the University of Oregon, the Oregon Historical Society and many smaller institutions. Note that this site only includes collections that have been described in finding aids; it does not search the many collections that have not yet been inventoried electronically.
  • Oregon State Archives
    This is the official repository for the records of state agencies such as the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Corrections. Their site includes links into several databases, covering topics such as Governors' Records, Legislation History, County Records inventories, early Oregon governmental records, descriptions of records relating to specific government branches such as the Department of Forestry, Department of Agriculture, etc. 
  • Oregon Historical Society
    Probably the best single repository for Oregon social and cultural history, OHS has a large and deep collection of archives and rare printed materials related to Oregon.

Across the United States & Canada:

    This database covers virtually all libraries and archives in the United States & Canada, but it only searches brief descriptions of archival holdings. Select "Format" = "Archival Material" to limit your search to archival sources.
    This database includes finding aids from several thousand archival repositories across the United States & Canada. It searches through the detailed descriptions of larger archival collections.

Digitized Primary Sources (Not able to visit an archive in person? These databases have millions of digitized records available...)

  • American Memory : digitized archives and documents from the U.S. Library of Congress collections, arranged by topic.
  • Digital Public Library of America : 30 million+ documents and images from archives across the United States.
  • Google Books Advanced Search: Books & periodicals published between 1800-1923. Excellent source for American and British history.
  • Gallica: French history and culture from the Bibliotheque National de France with 2.5 million+ items.
  • Europeana: European history and culture. Huge database with over 2,000 European institutional contributors.
  • UCSD's List of Medieval History Sources: links to ancient and medieval history digital archives.
  • Jefferson, FranklinAdams papers: These are just a few examples of digitized papers of American founders. To find others, Google "name + papers", for example: Adams Papers.
  • Online Archive of California : Millions of documents from archives in California. Especially good for researching the American West.
  • Oregon Digital Newspapers Project: Dozens of Oregon newspapers digitized and fully searchable, 1860-1922.
  • Valley of the Shadow Archives : Thousands of original letters, diaries, newspapers, speeches, census, & church records from two communities in Virginia during the Civil War era.

Getting Access to the Material

Once you have found something, you need to arrange access:

  • Note the Call Number or Accession Number for the archive and the specific Box or File Number that you wish to see. These are the two key pieces of information that the repository must have in order to retrieve things for you.
  • To visit in person: For archives held at Pacific University, email to confirm. For other archives, you will need to look up the library's access policies online. You may or may not need to contact the library before you arrive. Pacific archivists can help you to make arrangements if needed.
  • If you can't visit in person: most archives can make copies for you. You will probably need to narrow down your request to 100 pages or less of material. To request copies, look on the archives' web site for information on "copies" or "services". Most places post a schedule of fees online.