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Glossary of archival terms


Access is a term referring to the right, opportunity, means of finding, using, or retrieving information.

Access Conditions

Access conditions are the regulations and instructions governing access to particular records and archives.

Admission Register

An admission register is a book or file recording the date and details of each child’s placement into a Home or institution. Admission registers range in type from large printed volumes to generic notebooks and sets of system cards. They record varied details but most include at minimum, the name of the child, date of birth and date of placement.

Archival Collection

An archival collection is a set of records which have been accumulated over time for a particular purpose. For example they could be a range of different types of records that document the history of an organisation. An archival collection may consist of files created by an individual, organisation or government including diaries, letters, photographs, sound recording, moving images, objects and emails.  An archival collection will often include smaller groupings of records called archival series.

Archival Item

An archival item comprises materials that document a specific transaction or a set of related activities, such as a letter, photograph, photograph album or file. Although a letter may include several pages this may be treated as a single archival item as the pieces make up a whole. An archival item will usually form part of an archival series or archival collection.

Archival Series

An archival series is a set of records which were accumulated for a specific purpose and result from the same identifiable activity. Archival series should reflect the record keeping practices of the record creators. Some examples of archival series described in the Find & Connect Web Resource include board minutes, ward files, admission records, application forms and client files. An archival series often forms part of an archival collection and may consist of one or many archival items.


An archivist is a person professionally responsible for the management of archives.

Case Files

Case files is a term sometimes used to refer to government files containing information, correspondence and other documents related to children in state care. These records are sometimes called client files.

Case Histories

Case histories are brief histories of children under state care which include date of birth, parents’ names, details of committal, placements and other general information. Case history records were often kept by government departments.

Child Protection Files

Child protection files is the name given to records created by the relevant government department in Victoria about a child or young person in State ‘care’. These used to be known as wardship files, but the name of the file changed after the Child and Young Persons Act (1989) was enacted.

Closed Access Records

Record holders use the term ‘closed’ to mean that records are not available to the general public. This may be for cultural reasons, sensitivity or privacy. Those who wish to view closed records must apply to the body that owns or controls the records, explaining the reason they seek access.

Conditional Access to Records

Conditional access to records refers to the access conditions around records that are not open to the public for a variety of reasons including protecting personal privacy and cultural sensitivities. Such records can only be accessed by certain people or groups for a defined period. The State Government of Victoria and Public Record Office Victoria call such records ‘Closed’ records, and the State Library of Victoria calls them ‘Restricted’.


In archival records the term correspondence usually refers to letters sent or received by an organisation. In and out correspondence is often filed separately.

Correspondence Docket

Correspondence dockets were an early method of filing letters and other papers. Documents were attached on top of a subject file by a split pin in the top left hand corner. The earliest documents were filed first with newer ones placed on top. The file consisted of a card the length of a foolscap page with the headings: From, Title and Docket reference. The docket number usually comprised a number and a year, such as 593/1923. The whole file was vertically folded in halves.

Day Book

A day book was a social worker’s record book listing requests for assistance and visits for each day with contact details and remarks.


An estray is a document or record of unknown origin, or one that is not held by its creator or related custodian. Public Record Office Victoria uses the term more specifically, to refer to ‘Victorian government records that have found their way into other hands’.

Finding Aid

A finding aid is a tool to help people find the information they are looking for from or about archives. It can be hard copy or published online.

Letter Book

A letter book was a book in which letters or copies of letters were kept. Letter books were often kept as a record of the ongoing correspondence of a business, an organisation or an institution. Some early bound letter books were purpose printed, often using very thin and fragile paper for letter duplicates.

Log Book

Log books were notebooks kept by institutional staff to record any occurrences during their shift. Log books were kept for staff accountability, for handover purposes and to record any action taken. They also record checks on young people in the institution at 5, 15 and 30 minute intervals.

Minute Book

Minute books are books providing a written record of a meeting. They often include a list of attendees, details of issues discussed at the meeting, any suggestions brought up and decisions made. The Boards of Management for many Homes kept minutes of their meetings. These can be a valuable resource for information about the movement of children, policies and rules of the Home, staff appointments and movements and many other general subjects.

Open Access Records

Records which are open access are those which are available for viewing by the general public.


A record is described by the archival community as “Recorded information in any form or medium, created or received and maintained, by an organization or person in the transaction of business or the conduct of affairs”. The word ‘record’ (or records) is used to describe a wide variety of material including diaries, letters, maps, photographs, sound recordings, films and memorials created by individuals, families, private organisations or government. As people increasingly use computers to do business, records can also include emails, word processed documents and other digital content. Records can be significant for a number of reasons that are not always related to the reason they were first created. For example, they can be important for understanding the history of an individual, family or organisation. Others may prove a person’s rights or entitlements.

Ward File

Ward file is a term used to describe the records relating to a child’s time as a ward of the state. This term describes a range of records created by the state and territory government departments responsible for child welfare, such as case files, records of a child’s placements in institutions and foster homes, and correspondence. Ward files are usually found in state archives or in the archives of government departments.