Getting Started

Not sure where or how to start your search? Here are some tips to help you browse and search the archives database.

If you are still having trouble searching the archives database after using the following tips, contact us for help. Our staff are happy to help you find what you need.


It is possible to browse categories such as archival descriptions, subjects, places and genres. Click on the down arrow of the Browse button at the top left of the page. Alternatively, on the Home page, choose one of the "Browse by" options on the left.

Browsing Archival Descriptions

Users can browse all descriptions by clicking on the Archival Descriptions link. Please note that this will return top-level descriptions only. Limit your selection by Creator, Name, Place, Subject, Genre and Level of Description using the subheadings area in the left browsing menu.


To conduct a basic search, type your search term in the Search box at the top of the screen. As you type into the search box, suggestions will appear in the drop-down menu. Click on a suggestion from the drop-down menu to go to that record OR to see a list of archival descriptions that relate to your search term, hit 'ENTER' on your keyboard (or click the magnifying glass next to the search box). Results from the search will be shown in the middle of the page, and users can then narrow their results using the facets in the menu on the left.


Click on the Advanced Search option in the Search box. Complex queries can be built in the advanced search options by using Boolean search operators, which can narrow your search, combine or exclude terms.

  • Use AND to combine search terms to narrow your search: e.g. search Kitchener AND “Dominion Rubber” to return only descriptions that contain both search terms.

  • Use OR to combine search terms to broaden your search: e.g. search Kitchener OR “Dominion Rubber” to return descriptions that contain either search term.

  • Use AND NOT to exclude terms: e.g. search Kitchener AND NOT “Dominion Rubber” to return descriptions that include Kitchener but do not contain the phrase “Dominion Rubber.”

Additionally, your query can be limited to a specific field in the archival descriptions such as title, scope and content or name and subject access points. You can narrow your searches even further by applying the following filters:

  • Top-level description: Use this filter to limit your results to a specific fonds, collection or manuscript collection (e.g. Anne Innis Dagg fonds).

  • Level of description: Use this filter to limit the search results to a specific level of description (fonds, collection, series, file).

  • Digital object available: Use this filter to determine if the search results returned include digital objects (e.g. images, audio or video files, textual records, etc.), or by selecting “No” include only results without digital objects.

  • Finding aid: Do not use this filter, as none of our collections have finding aids attached.

  • Top-level descriptions vs. all descriptions: Use this filter to include only top-level descriptions or all levels of description in the search results. Top-level descriptions (fonds, collections) provide a general overview of the records, whereas the lower-levels of description will be more specific to that particular record grouping.

  • Date range: Use this filter to search for any records whose active dates of creation either overlap, or fall exactly within, a selected range.


Once you have navigated to a top-level description, you can easily search within the lower-levels of the description itself using the Quick Search box in the left sidebar. Enter your search term and hit ENTER on your keyboard (or click the magnifying glass next to the search box).

  • Click on any of the results that appear in the list to go to that record OR

  • To see a detailed list of all the results, click Browse all descriptions


  • There is a known issue where including stop words like "the" or "and" in your search query leads to no hits. If you are searching for Centre in the Square, for example, you can either put quotations marks around it, "Centre in the Square", to search as a phrase, or you can search for Centre Square, leaving out the stop words. The full list of stop words: "a", "an", "and", "are", "as", "at", "be", "but", "by", "for", "if", "in", "into", "is", "it", "no", "not", "of", "on", "or", "such", "that", "the", "their", "then", "there", "these", "they", "this", "to", "was", "will", "with".

  • As you type into the search box, suggestions will appear in the drop-down menu. If you click on a suggestion from the drop-down menu to see a list of archival descriptions that relate to your search term, but you have not typed a complete word, you will not get any hits. For example, if you start typing "Centr" in the search box, you will see suggestions for Centre in the Square. If you click to see all related archival descriptions, it will search for what you typed in, "Centr". Finish typing in the word to get accurate results.


You can select records while searching and browsing and add them to a list (the “clipboard”) for later review and further action. This can be useful if you wish to consult records in-person.

  • On the archival description search and browse results page, a "paper clip" icon appears in the upper-right corner of each result stub. Click on this icon to add the result to the clipboard.

  • To view items saved to the clipboard, click on the "paper clip" icon in the top header bar, and go to the clipboard page.

View full instructions: How to use the clipboard in the Archives Database


Archival descriptions are hierarchical and information at the different levels go from the general to the specific. At the fonds and collection levels, the description will provide an overview of all the material in the fonds or collection. The series description provides and overview of records grouped together because they were created as a result of a similar function or activity, record type, or subject. A file description provides information about material housed in a file or files that are related by use or by topic.