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An index lists various subjects that may be of interest to researchers, eg people, places, companies, societies, political groups etc. It allows a researcher to search across more than one collection to find useful information and creates another point of access alongside the catalogue.

Archive indexes are organised by the following criteria:

  • Subject
  • Genre
  • Names (of a person, company, organisation etc)
  • Places

These criteria can bring together information from many records into one place. Think of them like 'tags' on an internet forum or social media. For example, if you have the place 'Hickling Broad' in your database, you can use it to link together all the records in your collection that mention or have information about Hickling Broad. Likewise, the subject 'angling' will bring together all your records related to angling. These criteria are useful for researchers who want to investigate a particular topic, rather than what is in a single collection.

Subject and genre use consistent terms to help simplify searching. This is known as a controlled vocabulary, an organised arrangement of preferred words and phrases used to index records. Names and place are more variable, so you can use the places and names that are relevant to your collections.

So, what do these index criteria mean?

  • Subject: what the item is about, eg agriculture, fishing, caravan sites, sport
  • Genre: what the item is, eg local history notes, oral history, business records, personal correspondence
  • Place: eg Martham, The Red Dragon Public House, Kings Lynn, Market Langthwaite Village Hall, Sea Palling, Queens Street, Thetford Forest
  • Name: the name of a person, company or organisation. Write these in the following format: full name, dates, profession, place. eg John Smith, 1800–1860, solicitor, Martham. You can also list names of organisations, eg Colman’s, Norwich Union, Woodforde’s Brewery.

You can use as many words under each descriptor as you like in your catalogue record. For example: Subject 1: agriculture; Subject 2: fishing; Place 1: Kings Lynn; Place 2: Queens Street etc.

When you have the time, go through each catalogued record and add these criteria to the relevant fields. (This could be a good project for volunteers.) Once you have added your catalogue to a database, these criteria can help to index your records.

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