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Definition: Finding Aid

Finding aids are indexes to archival and manuscript collections. A finding aid can be as simple as a listing of folders (often called an inventory or preliminary inventory), but it can also be a complex document that places materials in context by consolidating information about the collection, such as a history or biographical note and a description of the arrangement of the collection.

Many finding aids are available online, although a large number of them are not, so it is still a good idea to contact a repository about using special collections before your visit.

ArchivesUM is a database of finding aids to collections located at the University of Maryland.

For example...

The beginning of a finding aid generally explains overview information, such as the title, creator, dates, and size of a collection.

Top portion of a finding aid


A finding aid will also often list the number of boxes and folder headings of a collection.

Bottom portion of a finding aid