RESEARCHING IN THE ARCHIVES
The Archives welcomes researchers, both academics and individuals researching their own histories. Those who wish to conduct their research in person must bring identification and fill out an Access Application.
You will be allowed to use notebooks and laptops. Staff ask to inspect your bags before you leave the reading area.
When possible, the staff will photocopy or scan documents, for a minimal fee.
Visitors may also make copies using their own cameras free of charge. You will need to let the staff know how you intend to use your equipment and your use must not disturb other users or threaten the safety of the records. Cameras must be on still photography mode. No flash photography will be allowed.
You will be required to fill a Reproduction of Archives Form and if you intend to publish records you will be expected to fill our Permission to Publish Form and pay the relevant fees.
Cash and checks are accepted. The Archives cannot accept credit cards at present.
How to conduct your research
The documents in the Archives are arranged according to the organisation or person that accumulated them. The records of different organisations are not mixed together even when they relate to the same topic. Documents written by one person and sent to another will normally be among the documents of the recipient, not the sender (though the sender may have kept a copy).
It is not possible to browse the shelves of the Archives as you would a library. You will have to discuss your research interests with the archivist and consult their finding-aids. When you have selected the documents you want to see, they will be brought for you from the repository.
Some records may be unavailable for research, either for reasons of confidentiality or because they are too damaged to be accessed by the public. The availability of a record will depend on rules set by law or by the depositor’s wishes.
Most researchers visit the Archives with particular query in mind – they want information about a particular event, person, or decision. Information about the same event or person may have been recorded by several agencies for different purposes. You will need to work out which person or organisation would have had an interest in or responsibility for your area of research, and what records they might have created about it. Then you will need to search through the documents of each relevant agency or person. Doing this may give you unexpected pieces of information or a different view on the same subject.
If you have not undertaken research in an Archives before, these tips will help you to get the best results –
— Understand your topic
Before starting on the archival documents, visit your library and study the relevant books on your topic. Search the Internet. If you are doing family research, ask relatives and friends for information (see the page on this site about Researching Your Family’s History).
— Formulate your questions
Identify the scope of your inquiry as precisely as possible. Are you interested in plantations generally or in finding the owner of an estate in 1789? Of course one question can lead to another.
–Think like an archivist
You will want to spend some time finding out about which persons or organisations might have accumulated relevant records. If you need help figuring this out, consult the archivist.
— Search the Archives’ Databases
The Archives is beginning to digitize some material. This includes both documents and indices. The first set of indices to be digitized is the Indentures. These include many different kinds of transactions, from manumissions to conveyances of land, to mortgages, to marriage agreements. You can now search these indices. See the Digital Resources page.
— Allow enough time
Think of your work as a jigsaw puzzle. You have to find the pieces and put them in the right place if you are to see the complete image. You will need patience and time to find the information you require. Do not leave your visit to the Archives for the last day before a deadline. You will be setting yourself up for disappointment.
— Have fun!
Research can be fun. You never know where it will take you.