Methodology, Sources and resources

Study the repositories

Learning about the types of sources that provide useful information for family history is essential, but so too is learning about the repositories.

Identifying the repository

A repository is a place which holds sources. A genealogical source is anything that provides you with information for family history. Sources include books, journal articles, birth certificates, wills and records of land ownership. They also include items such as photographs, handwritten poems, advertisements, or something less tangible such as personal recollections.

So, if these are examples of the range of source types, how does that help us identify a repository?

Some are easy. Buildings, such as libraries and archives; places, such as cemeteries; and websites that are managed by an institution or organisation.

Others are a bit trickier.

What is the repository for a website managed by an individual? What about sources held in a personal collection? And what is the repository when the source is the memory of a person?

Another complication is that an institution or organisation may manage multiple repositories, and an individual can manage multiple websites. The NSW State Archives, for example, holds sources in buildings at various locations around the state and also holds some sources online.

Finding sources

Why is it important to identify the repository? The first reason is so that we can find the sources.

When we research, we develop research questions, think about the information we need to answer the questions, make a list of sources that might provide that information, then make a list of repositories where the sources may be held. In this process, we may research the sources to determine which ones are likely to be useful, but how much time do we spend researching the repositories?

As mentioned above, an institution, organisation or individual may have more than one repository. We need to know that before we go looking for sources. Have the sources been digitised and placed online, or do we have to visit in person?

We also need to know how the repository is managed. Each repository is different. They have different collection policies that determine the sources they hold. They have different methods for organising the sources, describing them and presenting them to researchers. They may even have different versions of a source.

For example, a state library and a state archive may both have collections of convict indents but they may cover different date ranges and they may catalogue them differently. In addition, one repository may have the original sources and another may have derivative copies.

Learning about repositories increases our chances of finding the sources that we need.

Citing a repository

Knowledge about repositories helps us cite our sources more effectively.

It is true that we cite our sources, not the repositories. A citation that just says the information came from Ancestry, for example, is not a good citation because Ancestry is a repository.

However, that does not mean that we never mention a repository in a citation. In fact, citations for family history research often do mention the repository. Why is that?

I have written before about how to craft a good citation. One of the key rules is that you need to include the information necessary to find the source. If a source is unpublished, for example, it is unlikely to be found unless the repository is included in the citation. This could be the name of the archive or cemetery and its location. In the case of a website, locational information in the form of a URL performs the same function; and for a personal collection or personal recollection the owner is identified in the citation. If the source used is a derivative source, it is good practice to include information about the repository of both the derivative and original versions.

Example, unpublished source in an archive:

John Augustus Milbourne Marsh, unpublished journal commences 1 September 1848 on ship from England to Australia, Item 2/301, Society of Australian Genealogists, Sydney Australia.

Example, online derivative source with information about the repository of the original:

FamilySearch, “England Bishop’s transcripts,” database ( accessed 21 Jun 2016), entry for Frances, daughter of Peter & Frances Hawkins; St Nicholas Church, Brighton, Sussex, FHL film no. 1,468,821, page 186, no. 1481; citing West  Sussex Record Office, Chichester, no.: EP II/16/27A-M.

Using sources

Information about the repositories also helps us use the sources effectively.

When the people who manage repositories gather sources together, store them and then present them to researchers they have an impact on the sources.

They may alter the sources – accidentally or deliberately. They may leave some parts of a source out or reorganise them, or group different types of sources together. They may provide explanatory material or material that presents their interpretation of the sources.

Learning about the repositories helps us understand these impacts and this understanding improves our analysis of the sources.

2 thoughts on “Study the repositories”

  1. What is the best way to learn about the tires of repositories and what they store? And which repository will store which information?


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