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Archives at Yale: Staff Training: Examples and Tips

Using the new public user interface for Yale Special Collections


"I am writing a paper on medical practice and patient care in the United States from about 1850 to 1920. I need to find relevant primary sources from at least 3 different doctors, clinics, or health advocates."

Make use of date filters.

Try finding collections by type of record creators. Collection-level notes typically include a description of the activities of the creator(s) that provide context for the archival material. For example:

  1. Limit to collection ; Keyword: physician. Years: 1850 to 1920.
  2. Limit to collection ; Keyword: hospital. Years: 1850 to 1920.

Try retrieving collections by subject. Archives at Yale supports different strategies:

  • If you know the authorized subject headings, search it as a phrase within Subject. Dashes for subdivisions are not mandatory.
    1. Subject: “Medicine -- practice”. Years: 1850 to 1920.
    2. Subject: "Medical care -- United States". Years: 1850 to 1920.
  • Search topical terms as keywords within collections. This is a good strategy if you do not know the exact subject heading, or want to find additional results after trying subject headings. 
    1. “Medical practice” AND “United States” OR American. Years: 1850-1920.  Note a possible problem with this sample search: finding aids for U.S.-based materials often mention specific geographic locations (states, cities) without naming the country.
    2. Other possible keywords: medical care, patient care, health clinics, clinical notes.
  • Browse subjects to find related materials:
    1. Click on the tab Subjects in the top menu, filter results by relevant terms like "medicine" or "medical", click on the authorized subject headings to browse linked collections.
    2. Or, find a relevant collection using a keyword search, scroll down its collection-level page to expand its assigned Subjects tab, and click on the subject links.


"I’m compiling a biography on British General Henry Seymour Conway (1721-1795). Can I find letters to and from Conway at Yale?"

Yale does not have an Henry Seymour Conway collection, but there are letters across collections in various repositories.

Do not filter the search by Creator. Even if Yale repositories housed a collection of Conway materials, you would miss on all relevant correspondence in other collections. Moreover, the creator field has not been used consistently across repositories over time.

Search in all record types. Collection-level notes are unlikely to list all correspondents featured in a collection. Correspondent names are likely to be listed in file titles.

Search the full name as keyword. Try both with and without quotation marks.

  • Searching as a phrase "Henry Seymour Conway" will retrieve results matching the name in that order. Because file title conventions generally list correspondents by "last name, first name", this strategy may exclude relevant results.
  • Searching Henry Seymour Conway will retrieve results containing all parts of the name, but not necessarily in that order or next to one another. This search may return some irrelevant matches.

Look at the breadcrumb at the bottom of each result to evaluate its relevance. Because Archives at Yale returns archival records at any level of description, it helps to know where a record fits within its parent collection. Series titles can be especially useful in gaging possible material type and subject matter. Additionally, if a collection component has its own scope and contents note, the results list will display it.

Contextual breadcrumbs for part of a collection

Known-item search

"I heard that you have Gertrude Stein’s notebooks with drafts of the libretto for Virgil Thomson’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts. Is that true? If so, which collection and box should I request for the reading room?"

Try searching "Four Saints in Three Acts" (with quotation marks) in a first row AND notebooks in a second row as keywords. This will return fewer results than just the opera title.

Alternatively, think about the document’s creator. Do a general keyword search for Gertrude Stein, open the finding aid for her papers, and search “Four Saints in Three Acts” within the collection. Note: Not all document creators have their own archival collection, and some creators appear in multiple collections. For instance, the Music Library has Virgil Thomson’s papers, which could have contained writings by Stein for the opera.

Navigate the collection pane

The notebooks are in the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas papers, Beinecke Library.

"I conducted research on Randolph Bourne at the Beinecke a year ago, and forgot to note down complete citation information. For citation purposes, could you tell me the archival box number that contains his letter to Alyse Gregory, dated Nov. 10, 1916?"

The easiest way to locate correspondence between two persons is to search both names as keywords across all record types.

Terms in the search box

The letter may be housed in a file with letters covering a long time span, so limiting the search by the letter’s year is not always helpful. The letter is located in the Alyse Gregory papers, in a correspondence file titled Bourne, Randolph Silliman, 1914-18, n.d.