Search Tips & Prompts

This database can be searched in three main ways: the Search Bar, Advanced Search, and Browse.

For more information on how Special Collections and Archives materials are described, see Introduction to Special Collections and Archives Research.

For more information about accessing materials please see the Contact Us page. For further details about visiting Bruce Peel Special Collections, see Visiting Bruce Peel Special Collections or How do I request to see materials? for information about the University of Alberta Archives. Contact information can also be found on the repository page for each set of materials. Note that materials may have access restrictions that could prevent you from requesting to view materials in person.

It is also possible to limit search results to specific repositories, such as the University of Alberta Archives or the Bruce Peel Special Collections. First go to “Repositories” on the left hand side of the screen and then use the search bar at the top of the screen to “Search (repository name)” rather than “Global Search.”

Search Bar

The search bar at the top of the page will show results from every repository (i.e., Archives, Bruce Peel Special Collections, and University of Alberta Libraries) and every level of description when set to “Global Search”. When you start typing into the search bar, suggested entries will begin to appear. Top matches to your search will automatically show in the drop down box under the search bar. Returns are grouped by access points (i.e., Description (finding aid), creator, subject, place, etc.). To see all search hits, simply press “Enter”. To see the search hits from only certain access points, select the access point from the drop list.

Search results can be narrowed by specific attributes listed on the left side of the search results or by using the Advanced Search, described below.

The facets available to narrow results include:

Part Of - identifies fonds which have been tagged as containing material matching the search keyword

Repository - the custodian/location of the material

Creator - the creator of the fonds or collection

Name - names of significant figures discussed in the materials

Place - where the materials are from

Subject - topics covered

Level of description - what part of the materials are being described, that is, is it a fonds level description, a series level description, a file description, etc.

Media Type - format of the material (text, image, other)

Search results that have/are part of a finding aid will display a description tree that can be used to navigate to higher or lower levels of description within a fonds or collection.

An example of a tree description showing Fonds, Series, and Subseries can be seen in the Human Rights Institute of Canada fonds. The number in the title (2013-51) is the University of Alberta Archives accession number. This number is used to find and reference the material in this fond. This record provides information down to the file level in many sections.

Searching for People & Places

It is important to remember that some of the information about the materials is written in standardized ways, such as names and locations. While the search function is able to match most names, it can be helpful to understand how they are written in this database.

Each person who is the creator of records or has been named as a significant figure within records has an entry in the “People and Organizations” area. Each person also has a set way to write their name, called the “Authorized Form of Name” written as: Last name, First name Middle initial. Alternatives, nicknames, pen names, and expanded versions are listed along with their birth and death years, and a brief biography in the record for the person.

Place names are written as City, Province/State using the two letter abbreviation for the province or state. Places can also be written as Province, County or City, Country for locations outside of North America. For example, Edmonton, AB; Alberta, Canada; or Paris, France. When materials make reference to historical place names that no longer exist or have changed names multiple times, the period appropriate name is written out in full along with the modern location name. For example, Red River Settlement, Rupert’s Land along with Winnipeg, MB.

Advanced Search

The advanced search is accessible at the top of any search results page as a drop down menu.

The advanced search allows you to use facets to limit a search and search for multiple things at the same time. For example, using advanced search would allow you to search for textual records with digital objects, that are within the public domain, within a specific fonds and that have a keyword in their scope and content note. Note that the advanced search defaults to display top level records only and will not show results from lower levels of description. This can be turned off by selecting “All description” or by cancelling the top level descriptions qualifier at the top.

With the ability to add multiple search terms before or after applying facets, this page allows further narrowing of results by search terms. It is possible to search the title, creator history, description, extent, subject, location, names, and item numbers (reference code).

The facets available in the advanced search screen to narrow results show across the top of the advanced search screen and are:

Repository - where the materials are physically located.

Top-level descriptions - shows only the fonds and collection level descriptions.

General material designation - a defined list of types of materials. They include: architectural drawing, cartographic material, graphic material, moving images, multiple media, object, sound recording, and textual records.

Digital object available - this limits results to only those with files attached.

Level of description - a defined list of what part of the physical material the description is of. Levels of description are: collection, fonds, record group, sousfonds, series, subseries, file, item, and part.

Copyright status - notes whether materials are under copyright, are in public domain, or are of unknown copyright status.


The Browse pages allow for searching within the various access points. Access points are the different pieces of information in a finding aid and are ways you would identify a fonds or collection as being relevant to your research. Access points include Descriptions (finding aid or accession record), People / Organization (creator of the records or people and organizations the records are about), Subject, Places, and Digital objects (digital files attached to finding aids).

Some of the access points, like People/Organizations as creators, also have facets to narrow results by type, such as person, family, and corporate body (or other types of organization).

People/ Organizations

On the Places and Subjects browse pages, all of the existing access points are listed on the left. Search within the entire access point and use the facets on the left side of the screen to narrow results.

To see a list of all Subjects or Places, select the access point without typing in a keyword.

Quick Search

Quick search may be used to search within a fonds or collection, that is, it will only give results from within the collection or fonds you are currently looking at. It appears on the left hand side of the screen.