Finding Aid Crash Course

Navigating the
Argyle Patent Document
Finding Aids
October 2018

I have received a number of questions regarding using the two primary finding aids I mentioned in my Argyle Patent Documents post. This is a crash course in how to use them. Additionally, I will also talk about finding aids at the New York State Archives.

A finding aid is a tool to help you find specific information in a specific record group, manuscript collection or series. There scope and content vary greatly. Most archives have multiple finding aids tailored to specific collections. There are finding aids that have been published like the books by the New York State Secretary’s Office. Other finding aids are in booklet form or binders available at a particular archive. Minnesota State Archives has over 100 binders that contain finding aids. In the last several years many of these finding aids have been digitized and are available online through their catalog. In many cases, you will need to use multiple finding aids to locate the information you are interested in. Such as the case with the Argyle Patent Documents.

The First Finding Aids I Used:

When I started searching for the original documents Jennie Patten used I began with these two books:

The first: New York State Secretary’s Office, Calendar of N.Y. Colonial Manuscripts Indorsed Land Papers: In the Office of the Secretary of State of New York 1643—1803 (Albany: Weed, Parsons & Co., 1864). Here. 

The second: E. B. O’Callaghan New York State Secretary’s Office, Calendar of Historical Manuscripts In The Office Of The Secretary of State, Albany, N.Y. Part II English Manuscripts 1664–1776 (Albany: Weed, Parsons, and Company, 1866). Here.
Part I covers the time frame 1630-1664 and can be found here.

The Calendar of N.Y. Colonial Manuscripts… does not include a preface or any information on what the Calendar contains. The two volumes of the Calendar of Historical Manuscripts… contain prefaces. The prefaces give background on why the Calender was produced and an overview of the documents included and/or omitted.

Both Calenders basically work the same way. I am going to use the finding aid entry for Document 01 from my Argyle Patent post as an example.

Finding aid pages Doc 01

Document 01 Finding Aid information:
Down at the bottom of the page, you will see the following:
“Oct. 17 Petition of Alexander Montgomerie and others,
praying a patent for 7,200 acres of land near Wood creek, with 170
List of persons to be included in said grant,        …………………..170”

In order to determine the year of the document, we need to look at the top of the page and we see that the year is 1738. The 170 is in the column labeled page. So far we have an entry with a year and page number. In order to determine the volume look at the top of the page just to the right or left of the center seam of the book. There will be either a left or right bracket containing a volume number. In this case, it is [VOL., XII As you can see on the opposing page the catalog begins each volume with the years that volume includes.

A word about the “page” numbers. Even though the catalog calls these numbers page numbers they are not really pages. A page is a single side of a piece of paper. These documents contain multiple pages. In most cases they are folios. A folio is a larger single piece of paper that has been folded in half giving you four sides to write on. In a book, the folio consists of 4 separate pages each with a unique page number. In courthouses and archives, a number of folios folded together sometimes with an outer paper are called packets. This was fairly standard way documents were stored. Court documents typically are not filed chronologically by date. They are filed in the order of when the case was brought to the court. All documents belonging to a single case or action were filed together regardless of date.

Packets were stored in “boxes.” The picture below is from the Lincoln County Courthouse in Stanford, Kentucky. The boxes are above the shelves containing the registers.


Lincoln County Courthouse_Mockup

The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, for example, has not unfolded their packets. When you order up a set of documents they are filed in archival boxes one packet after the next in the same order they were taken out of the cabinets in the courthouse. The picture below is of a box at the state archives containing multiple packets from one court case.

Kentucky Archives_Mockup

On the other hand, when O’Callaghan decided to inventory and catalog the colonial manuscripts he chose to put those documents in chronological order by date and not in the order of a particular request or action. This is why documents pertaining to the Argyle Patent are no longer together and in some cases are filed in the wrong decade as we discovered with Jennie Patten’s documents VIII, IX, and X. Originally all of the documents pertaining to the 16 March 1763 patent request would have been bundled together in one packet. These documents began on 16 March 1763 my Document 14 and ended on 3 March 1764 my Document 20. O’Callaghan’s catalog list these documents in the following volumes and pages. I have added the number of actual pages associated with O’Callaghan’s single page number.

Document Volume Page No. No. of images
Document 14 XVI 163 3
Document 15 XVI 167 9
Document 16 XVII 19 3
Document 17 XVII 62 1
Document 18 XVII 63 3
Document 19 XVII 64 3
Document 20 XVII 87 5

How the Documents were numbered:

Some of the documents have a volume number and folio/page number on each page. Some do not. Using Document 20 as an example the numbers are written as 17:87. The number 17 represents the volume number and 87 corresponds to the page number in the finding aid. As you can see by looking at the images of Document 20 17:87 is on all of the pages. The first image contains the number 87 however it is a partial image of the entire page. It is not on the fourth image because it is the right side of the page shown in image 3. Clicking on the image will open in a new window.

Document 20_Mockup

Document 20 is a great example of a folio. Take a look at all the images. Notice the fold lines. The first fold was to fold a large piece of paper in half along the vertical axis. This gives you four pages. After the document was created it would be folded again the second fold is on the horizontal axis. The third fold was to fold the document in half again along the horizontal axis.

Take a look at image 2 this is “page 1” the beginning of the document. Notice there is writing that is perpendicular to the actual document. That writing can be read in image 1. This is where you will find information about the document. As you can see there are two descriptions followed by the clerks signature. The document would be filed with that description at the top. Depending on how a document was folded these descriptions may be located on the last page of the folio or the first. The reason this folio was folded with the first page on the outside is there is no empty space on the fourth page of the folio. When there are multiple folios/documents over a period of time a cover sheet would have been added around all of the folios creating a packet.

Now What?

Now that I have a list of volumes and folio/page numbers how do I find the actual documents?

When I first started looking for these documents the New York State Archives website was not as extensive as it is today. I knew I would be going to the archives and I wanted to be as prepared as possible in advance of my visit. Once I had a tentative date for my visit I sent the archives an e-mail outlining what documents I was interested in. They responded by giving me the Series numbers and the availability of the documents. Today that information is in their online catalog.

In the e-mail, the archives sent me the following Series numbers for the collections I was interested in. Series A0272 and series A1894. Series A0272 covers the first finding aid I used Calendar of N.Y. Colonial Manuscripts Indorsed Land Papers: In the Office of the Secretary of State of New York 1643—1803. Series A1894 covers the second finding aid I used New York State Secretary’s Office, Calendar of Historical Manuscripts In The Office Of The Secretary of State, Albany, N.Y. Part II English Manuscripts 1664–1776.

The New York State Archives finding aids are available for both series online. Series A0272 is here and Series A1894 here.

These finding aids give an enormous amount of information about the series including the scope and content, use of the records, alternate formats for example microfilm, any related information, other finding aids, custodial history, and detailed descriptions.

I briefly addressed the inconsistencies between the two finding aids, the books and the New York State Archives finding aid in my post Argyle Patent Documents. Clicking on the finding aid for Series A0272 and scrolling down to the bottom under “Detailed Description” you will see those differences. The first finding aids gave volumes in Roman numerals and the State finding aid uses Arabic numerals. Both finding aids use the term “page/pages.” The detailed description in addition to the microfilm roll numbers also gives the “Box” numbers for the original documents.

Final thoughts:

Online catalogs can be confusing to navigate. If you can’t locate a particular collections finding aid or you want to know if an archive holds specific documents and you are having trouble with the online catalog send them an e-mail. Describe what you are looking for. The archivists will answer your questions and point you in the right direction.

It is always a good idea to study the microfilm roll. How does each frame relate to the previous one and the following frame? In today’s world of digital images, this is even more important. Always look at the images preceding your target and after.