Archival research training

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Conducting Archival Research15th November 2013

From Poland to Waltham Forest


Esther Freeman, Project Director

Jane Greenstock, Research Manager

Round the room- name, experience in archives

Sessions we will cover

What is an archive? Materials we can find there

Planning research projects, searching and finding in an archive, understanding, analysing and critiquing sources

Quick history of Polish immigration to London/UK

Preparing to visit an archive

Buddying system and signing up

Blogging about archive visits


An interesting fact about you or your family

What is an archive?

A collection of primary materials

A place where materials are stored

Multiple collections within one repository

What is an archive?

Different from a library but there are overlaps

where storage meets dreams, and the rest is history. (Robert Connors 1992)

Designed to preserve historical materials and make them available for use

Special status of materials is why they have particular procedures in place to protect them

Types of materials in archives

What kind of materials do you think will be in archives?

Types of materials

Examples of archival materials

Photograph of Lebus employees

A Lebus party invite

A Lebus catalogue

Types of archives

College and university archives

Government archives- central, local

Corporate archives

Historical societies


Special collections

Religious archives


A useful guide to archival terminology has been produced by the Society for American Archivists: this can be found at

Planning your research

General advice:Begin with formulating broad research question

Background reading

Think about archival material you might be interested in

Planning your research

You may not know what will be there until you arrive

Detective work

Communication with archivists


Are potentially your best ally in your research

Know archives as a whole

May provide suggestions of where to go next

Searching and finding material

Role of the internet

Finding aids

Catalogue descriptions

Internet catalogues

Some archives will make their catalogues searchable online e.g. National Archives

Archives Hub

World Cat


Can point you towards archive you hadn't heard of/ considered.

Finding aids

Documents prepared by archivists that informs researchers about a collection

Who, why and how they were created

Discusses collection as a whole

Sometimes available on the internet, otherwise you will need to contact archives to get hold of it.

Catalogue records/archive descriptions

Reference number

Collection title




Administrative/biographical detail

Example of a catalogue page

Lebus archive, V&A Museum of Childhood

interrogating sources

Critiquing a source- who produced it and why

Not always done with preservation in mind

Official documents (e.g. ship's logs) have certain implicit trustworthiness

Where does it fit in context with rest of collection?

Polish migration to London

Different waves of Polish people have come to the UK and London specifically for different reasons

16th-17th century: Polish Protestants seeking refuge during Counter Reformation

End of 18th century political disintegration of Polish state.

Polish migration to London

19th century Increase in migration- 1867 the first Polish chapel and Polish centre were established in London

Began to see more 'ordinary people' arriving following expulsion of ethnic Poles from Prussia

Polish Roman Catholic Mission founded in London in 1894.

Polish migration to London

Between WW1 and WW2 drop in numbers arriving but Polish community in London grew stronger as many could not return

Prisoner of war camps in Alexandra Palace and Feltham

Second world war new chapter in Polish migration history

Britain agreed to host Polish government-in-exile and Polish troops played key part in defending Britain

Polish migration to London

End of Second World war- ex-Polish soldiers & families + displaced labour camp prisoners from Europe permitted to settle in UK

Rapid growth of historically-established Polish community

1950s-1989- numbers were small , mainly families of those already settled.

Polish migration to London

Fall of Communist system in 1989 regained freedom of travel

Recession in Poland mid 1990s

Becoming established 'business persons' due to 1991 EU rules

2004- UK opens its labour market to nationals of A8 countries

Polish migration to London

End of 2007 migration on much bigger scale than earlier waves

Significant numbers travel to UK

Decelerating since end of 2007

New community has own boundaries and practices.

See these short films for more

Planning a visit to the archive

Make contact/an appointment. Consider opening hours.

Check travel and accommodation options if travelling far

Review guidelines for reviewing material (dirty hands limits on time)

Check internet access

Planning a visit to an archive

Check if you need a readers ticket or to register

Pencils will probably be needed or see if laptops or tables are permitted and have access to sockets

Removal of coats and bags (lockers) and no food drink or gum

Planning a visit to the archive

Request forms may need to be filled out


Lights on electronic devices

Careful handling and maintaining order

Copyright, restriction and legal issues

Bring appropriate supplies

Planning a visit to an archive

Prepare for the unexpected, allow extra time/ repeat visits if necessary

Prioritise your requests

Adapt your workflow to policies of archive

Take thorough citations

Point out corrections

Connect with other researchers.


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