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A finding aid is a description of a collection of archival material. The finding aids on this website describe collections held by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. Unless otherwise noted, the online finding aid is the most detailed description of a collection.

A finding aid provides information about a collection and its creators. It also provides an outline of a collection's contents.

A finding aid may include the following information:

  • Indications of a collection's size, date span, and formats (such as bound volumes, audio recordings, photographs, etc.)
  • Biographical or historical description of a collection's creator
  • Summary of a collection's contents
  • A list of a collection's contents by container (for example, folder, box, etc.)

A finding aid does not typically include description of individual documents. Locating individual documents not described in a finding aid requires review of the collection.


Can I see the archival materials online?

Probably not. Unless otherwise indicated in the description on the web page, the archival materials have not yet been digitized and cannot be viewed online. The Southern Historical Collection is actively pursuing digitization, and in time, more and more archival materials will be digitized and made available online.

How can I see the archival materials that are not available online?

The Southern Historical Collection is located in the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library on the UNC Chapel Hill Campus. The Southern Historical Collection is open and available to the public for use in the reading room at Wilson Library. For library hours, directions, and parking information, please see Visitor Information.

If I am unable to visit Wilson Library, is there another way to see the archival materials that are not available online?

Options, including duplication, may exist for seeing the archival materials without visiting. These options are dependent on the specific archival materials that are relevant to your interests. The first step is to examine the description of archival materials on the web page in order to select relevant materials and formulate your request. The second step is to contact the reference staff.

If the Web page contains a "Sensitive Materials Statement," can I still see the archival materials?

Yes, you may see the archival materials. The "Sensitive Materials Statement" is a notification that the archival materials may contain sensitive or private information - such as social security numbers - that you should not copy, publish, or use in any way. If you find such information within the archival materials you are using, please contact the reference staff.

Why do listening copies or viewing copies need to be made before I can see the audiovisual archival materials that are not available online?

Original sound and image recordings may not be used due to preservation concerns and obsolescence of equipment and formats. Therefore, listening or viewing copies must be made prior to use of the audiovisual archival materials. In advance of a research visit, please contact the reference staff to inquire about listening or viewing copies. Production of listening and viewing copies may require a significant length of time, and same-day service is not available.


I am planning a research visit to use materials in the Southern Historical Collection, the Southern Folklife Collection, or the University Archives and Records Management Services. Do I need to make an appointment or request my materials in advance?

No appointment is necessary. Research and Instructional Services staff will be available to assist you upon your arrival. We do not pull materials in advance, but we can verify that the materials, including listening and viewing copies of audio-visual items, are available and open for use. Please contact staff [] at least two weeks in advance of a visit to request listening and viewing copies and please review the information on our location and hours page and using materials page. We look forward to seeing you.

How can I get in touch with ________, whose papers or records are held by the Southern Historical Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, or the University Archives and Records Management Services?

Our services do not include assistance in locating or contacting persons represented in our collections and records, except when permission of the donor is required to use a collection.

I am conducting genealogical research. Do you have information on my ancestor or my family?

To search for your family name in the Southern Historical Collection, either browse the finding aid lists (alphabetized by surname) or search for the name on the search page. Most "hits" will link you to finding aids. Read through the finding aids to determine the relevance of the collection to your family history and contact Research and Instructional Services staff [] if you need further assistance.

The Southern Historical Collection holds manuscript collections concerning many, but by no means all southern families. Manuscript collections are the private papers of individuals and families or the records of organizations, and these materials were collected primarily for scholarly research. Private papers are rarely comprehensive and are not, in most cases, as useful as public records are for genealogists. Public records, including birth and death notices, marriage licenses, tax records, deeds and wills, and census records for North Carolinians are held by the North Carolina State Library and the Office of Archives and History. The State Library has a genealogy section and staff who can assist genealogical researchers. You may also want to begin your research at your county's public records repository or at your local public library, particularly if they have a local history or genealogy room.

Can I get a collection through interlibrary loan?

If a collection or a portion of a collection is available on microfilm, you may request the film through the interlibrary loan office of any public, academic, or school library with which you are affiliated. The interlibrary loan office should contact the UNC-Chapel Hill University Library's Interlibrary Lending Department. Please note that the Collections do not loan original materials or other items and do not participate in document delivery services.

Can I receive copies of materials contained in a collection?

You may request copies. Please note that the Collections reserve the right to refuse a duplication request in whole or in part at any time at the staff's discretion. We may not be able to fill the request due to the fragility of the original items, the volume of your request, or restrictions. A request for copies requires the completion of registration and duplication agreement forms, and the signature of the requester. If we can fill your request, we will send the forms and an invoice to you. On site researchers are encouraged to use digital cameras for duplication in the search room. For more details, please see our duplication policies.


An abstract is a portion of the finding aid that identifies the individuals, families, and organizations represented in a collection and briefly describes a collection's contents. Students and other researchers often use the abstract to determine quickly whether a collection is relevant to their projects.

An accession is a group of materials received by an archive. A collection may consist of one or multiple accessions. Accessions to a collection that are received after the first accession are also called additions.

Additions are groups of archival materials added to a collection over time. Additions to collections are typically listed and described at the end of a finding aid.

An archive is a place where materials selected for their long-term historical or cultural significance are preserved and used by students and other researchers. The word repository is often used as a synonym for archive.

Archivists collect, organize, describe, and preserve manuscript collections and other archival material. Archivists also help students and other researchers find and use the materials.

Biographical/Historical Note
A Biographical/Historical Note is a portion of the finding aid that provides information about the individuals, families, and organizations represented in a manuscript collection.

A collection is a group of manuscripts or other archival materials accumulated by a person, family, or organization and is held in an archive for use by students and other researchers.

Contents List
The contents list is a portion of the finding aid that provides a collection's box, folder, or other container numbers and briefly describes what is in the containers. Students and other researchers use the contents list to determine which boxes, folders, or other containers they need to request.

Correspondence is communication exchanged by letters, postcards, telegrams, emails, etc.

The creator is the individual, family, or organization that produced, received, or gathered the materials in a collection.

A manuscripts curator is responsible for selecting materials for the archive.

Digitization is the process of creating digital copies of paper documents or analog audio-visual recordings. Digitized manuscript materials can be placed online for students and other researchers to use.

Finding Aid
A finding aid describes a collection of archival materials. Students and other researches use finding aids to explore our collections and decide which materials will be useful to their projects.

Archival materials are often stored in folders. A finding aid typically lists the contents of each folder so students and other researchers know which folder to request to examine in the reading room.

Items Separated
Items separated are archival materials with special storage needs that have been physically separated from the rest of a collection. The finding aid will indicate if items have been separated. Students and other researchers may request to view these items.

Linear Feet
Linear feet is given in order to provide a visual representation of the size of a collection. One small box of archival material occupies .5 linear foot of shelf space and a large archival box occupies 1.5 linear feet. Therefore, a 300 linear foot collection is likely comprised of either 600 small boxes or 200 large boxes.

Listening/Viewing Copy
A listening copy is an audio recording used by students and other researchers in place of the original recording. A viewing copy is video recording used by researchers in place of the original film or video. Researchers do not use original recordings because playback could permanently damage or destroy the recording.

Manuscripts are letters, diaries, photographs, interviews, and many other items that students and other researchers use in an archive.

Museum Items
Museum items are three-dimensional objects that are occasionally kept with archival collections.

Processing is the work of arranging and describing archival materials so that they can be used by students and other researchers.

Provenance refers to the original source of a collection, usually an individual, family, or organization, who gave or sold a collection to an archive. The source of a collection is usually, but not always, the creator of the materials.

Research Services
Research Services is the group of archivists who help students and other researchers find and use the materials.

Restrictions are limitations on access to and use of archival materials in a particular collection. For example, duplication might be restricted or prohibited for a collection due to the fragility of the materials.

Scope and Content Note
The finding aid's Scope and Content Note broadly describes the materials in a collection. It provides information about the date ranges, general topics covered, and types of documents and other materials found in the collection.

A series is a grouping of archival materials. Often, materials in a series are related by date, format (for example correspondence, diaries, photographs) or topic. Finding aids contain descriptions of series.

Special Collections
Special collections are rare and archival materials housed in a library. The Louis Round Wilson Library holds UNC-Chapel Hill's special collections.

Subject File
A Subject file is grouping of documents within a collection that relate to a topic, event, person, place, or project. Subject files are often kept by individuals such as writers, politicians, professors, to organize information on various topics.

Subject Headings
Subject headings are descriptive tags. They describe topics found in the collections. The wording and structure of subject headings are standardized so that a specific topic is described in the same way in all finding aids.


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This page was last updated Thursday, April 16, 2009.