Using the Archives online database, you can find and request amazing material about Toronto’s history and culture. To start your search in the database, click the blue “Search the Archives” button.
If you are doing a very basic search you can use the keyword search feature at the top of the screen. This is a good place to start if you are interested in browsing our collections and seeing what is available. You can search keywords like intersections, streets, people, and events.
For example, type in the keywords “Yonge Eglinton” and click the Search button.
You can choose how many search results are displayed per page.
To see more details about a result, click on the blue hyperlinked title.
A new page will display, showing more details.
You can also narrow your keyword search by only searching for scanned photographs by checking the Online/Scanned Records Only box. The Archives has 1.7 million photographs in our collection, over 100,000 of which are digitized, so you can view a lot of photographs online.
By clicking on any thumbnail photograph…
…you can bring up a viewer to click through your results. Use the arrows to move back and forth through the images. If you want to see the photograph at a bigger size, click on the box-with-arrow symbol in the lower left corner. To close the viewer, click on the X in the lower right corner.
There is no way to save your search online. If you clear your web cookies or search history, the search will be deleted. To keep the results of a search, you can save them to a list, generate a pdf, and save the pdf on your computer or device. For instructions on how to do this, see “Requesting Archival Records,” below.
If you want to narrow your search even more, you can use the Advanced Search. The Advanced Search is useful if you are looking for something very specific. To get to the Advanced Search screen, click on the Advanced Search link below the Basic Search boxes.
There are several fields you can use in the Advanced Search to narrow your search. You can use one or more fields at the same time. When you have filled in your search criteria, click the Search button.
Keyword: This is the same Keyword field used in a Basic Search. You can use it by typing in words or phrases.
Date: The date field allows you to narrow your search to a specific year or range of years. Examples:
Specific date: “1905” or “January 1, 1905”
Date range: “1900…1910”
Before a date: “…1910”
After a date: “1910…”
Use an ellipsis (…) between dates, not a dash.
Title or Number: Use the Title or Number field if you know the exact title or number of a record you are looking for.
Forms Part Of: The Forms Part Of field is useful if you want to see a list of everything in a fonds or series. Type in the fonds or series title or number here.
Level of Arrangement: Archives material is arranged hierarchically from the general to the specific. The level of arrangement field lets you specify if you are searching for a full fonds or series (larger and more general), or a file or item (more specific).
Type of Media: The Type of Media field lets you select a specific physical form, like photographs, textual records, drawings, etc.
Box Number: The Box Number field is useful if you have already used records from the Archives and would like to see what’s in a particular box again.
Online/Scanned Records Only: The Online/Scanned Records Only is the same field used in a Basic Search.
Here’s an example of a search for Council minutes from Scarborough for the time period 1901 to 1905. (In this example, you happen to know that they will be in the City of Scarborough fonds. Putting Scarborough in the Keyword field will also work, though you will get more hits because the database will search all fonds, not just the City of Scarborough fonds.) The information you enter into the search fields is:
Keyword: Council minutes
Forms Part Of: Scarborough
Then you click the Search button.
Once you have identified records you would like to see, you can request to view them. Many of the records at the Archives are not scanned, so if you would like to look at them, you will need to request the records and view them in person at the Archives.
The first step is creating a list of records you want to see. The Save to List button or link will add a record to your list. This function appears both on the search results screen and on every individual description screen.
You can see the number of items you have in your list at the top of any screen. You can view your entire list by clicking the View List link.
In the list screen, you can remove records from your list by clicking the Remove From List button underneath each hit.
In the List screen, you can create a Records Request Form pdf that you will use to request records from the Archives. This pdf will contain everything on your list. To create your pdf, click the arrow beside the Options bar at the top of the screen.
The pdf will pop up in a new screen.
Note that you can request only files and items, not fonds, series, or subseries. The latter are groups of records that may contain tens or hundreds of files or items. You can tell that a record can be requested because the entry on the Records Request Form pdf has a box number and a barcode.
The Records Request Form contains all of the information that Archives staff need to retrieve your records for you. If you are in the Archives, you can print this form and give it to the Research Hall staff, and your records will be retrieved from storage within one hour. You can also generate this list at home, and email it to the Archives ahead of time, indicating the date you would like to review these records. We will have them ready for your visit. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note that you can only request five boxes at a time. Please mark on the Records Request Form which five boxes you would like to view first. Once those have been retrieved, you can request another five.
If there are any items on the Records Request Form that require review because of Freedom of Information legislation or donor restrictions, Archives staff will discuss your options with you.
The boxes you have requested will be delivered to the brown wooden cubbyholes across from the Research Hall door where you came in. The box number is on a large white label on the side of each box. Look for the same box numbers as on your Records Request Form.
Please open only one box and one file at a time, and keep the records in the order you find them (don’t rearrange them). You may use a cart to move your boxes to a Research Hall table. If you would like help moving boxes, please feel free to ask Archives staff.
Understanding how archival records are arranged will help you find material you are interested in.
Archival records are described in groups (fonds, series, and subseries), which are made up of files and/or items. The groups are based on the creators of the records, and how the records were originally organized. This means that if you find a file or item that interests you, the rest of the group may also have useful material in it.
To see a list of all records in a group, go to the fonds or series description. One way to do this is to go into a file or item description screen. There, you will see a link under in the Forms Part Of field to the groups the file or item is part of.
In the fonds or series description, go to the Record Consists of field, and click the Browse link.
This will take you to a new search results screen containing all of records attached to that fonds or series. (In a fonds description, you may see only series. In that case, you can go into the series description and click Browse again to see everything in that series.)
In a few cases, the description of a group of records may direct you to a printed finding aid, because the contents of the group aren’t listed in the database. You will have to come to the Archives to see this list. Archives staff will assist you.