Preparing For Your Visit

Our archivists are here to help you in your research process at the OJA, as conducting research at an archives is not as straightforward as at your local library. Records are organized differently and finding information can sometimes be a challenge. The archivist is your best source for information about the records in our holdings.

To begin your research, have a specific topic in mind or even a question that needs to be answered. The archivist will then locate the records that are likely to contain relevant information. If we do not have the information here in our holdings, we will direct you to other archives or resources that can help.

How Our Records Are Organized and Described

Unlike a library which is organized by subject, archival records are organized by creator (provenance) and arranged in the order in which they were created and maintained (original order). This allows researchers to fully appreciate the context in which the records were created -- who created them, why they were created, and how they were used. The collection of records created or accumulated by one person or organization is called a fonds. The records within a fonds are arranged hierarchically into series, files and items.

When records are first donated to the OJA they are accessioned into our permanent holdings. A brief description of the whole of the records is created, including the scope and date range of the records, their material format, and the history of the creator. This administrative process is the first step in establishing physical, legal and intellectual control of the donation. Eventually, the accession will be combined with others from that same creator to form a fonds. The fonds is described in more detail than the accession in order to make the contents further discoverable by researchers. Therefore, archival records may be found as both accessions and fonds.

More information on archival terminology can be found in the Society of American Archivists (SAA) glossary. (new window will open)

How To Conduct Research Using Archival Records

When you contact the OJA, an archivist will ask you a series of questions in order  to determine which records will be most beneficial to you. They are trying to:

  1. Determine WHO (a person or organization) would have likely created records related to your inquiry. For example, if you are researching the reception of immigrants into Canada after the Second World War, then you would want to look at the records of the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society.
  2. Narrow or broaden your question as much as possible. This will help determine which series or files are most relevant and what types of records will best serve your purposes. For example, if you are interested in how decisions were made about the reception of immigrants, then the meeting minutes would likely be your best source.