"Finding aids" are descriptive inventories, indexes, or guides that we write to describe the contents of our archival records and manuscript collections. Finding aids provide information about these primary source collections, including the context and creator, any archival actions such as acquisition and processing, and often a detailed contents list. Read a finding aid to 1) determine the relevance of a collection to your research; 2) understand the context of the material; and 3) identify specific parts of a collection you would like to use. (Note that the "contents list" section leads you to specific folders and or boxes.)
Most of the Archives Department's collections are described in online finding aids which are searchable in the state-wide database Archival Resources in Wisconsin (http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WIArchives). Or, you can read finding aids when you visit the Archives.
Watch our video on searching in and understanding finding aids at How to Find Archival Materials.
For the most success, we suggest that you decide on a general research topic before you visit us. Or, if you are working on a class assignment, make sure you understand your assignment.
In general, the more research you do in secondary (e.g. books, documentaries) and tertiary (e.g. encyclopedias) sources, and the more familiar you are with the period or topic you are studying, the more productive you will be in the Archives.
Each time you visit, give yourself enough time. Using archival material usually takes more than 30 minutes, and sometimes hours or days, so we recommend that you allot an hour or two for your first visit.
To familiarize yourself with the archives, watch our tutorial "Visit the UWM Archives."