How to use Archives Investigator

Archives Investigator is a tool to assist all who need access to archival records, for business, research or management reasons. It provides information about -

1. what records are in the archives, and
2. the contexts in which the records were created and used.

As well as identifying context (who created the records), Archives Investigator features 'functional context' (why the records were created), enabling you to identify records relevant to your research through the functions and activities that they document.

Archives Investigator is based on the 'series system' for management and access to records, first developed in Australia and now widely recognised as a metadata standard.

Entities in Archives Investigator

Archives Investigator uses a set of 'entities' which are linked to each other hierarchically, to provide information about the records and their contexts. These entities and the ways they connect are shown in the diagram. They are described, with examples, in the text below.

Entities in Archives Investigator diagram

Search strategies

Archives Investigator offers a choice of search strategies which have been tailored to meet different research needs. See Search tips for information about these strategies, and some examples of how to use them.

If you are unfamiliar with archives investigator, we strongly recommend spending a little time reviewing the search tips.

We also recommend that you spend some time trying out the different search paths available in Archives Investigator, and finding out more about the different entities and how they are linked to each other.

You might find it helpful to print this page, and the Search Tips page, as handy guides for using Archives Investigator.

A note about record items

Most researchers will use Archives Investigator to find information about what record items are available. All of the search strategies will enable you to identify record items. However it is important to note that not all record items have yet been listed in Archives Investigator. There are millions of items and the task will take many years.

You may need to study the information in record series to understand whether as-yet-unlisted items in that series are likely to be relevant to you.  The archivists may then be able to provide more information about available items and how to access them, including (sometimes) old pre-computer lists.

Archives Investigator ‘entities’


An organisation is a whole government, municipal council, incorporated company, church or other body that is generally regarded as independent and autonomous in the performance of its normal functions. 

Examples of organisations:

City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-ORG-1, Sydney City Council, 1842+
City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-ORG-11, South Sydney Municipal Council, 1968-1981
City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-ORG-14, Festival of Sydney Ltd, 1975+
State Records Authority of NSW
NSR-ORG-1, Colony of New South Wales, 1788-1900


A function is a major area of responsibility, authority or jurisdiction assigned to or assumed by an organisation. Functions derive from mandates usually given in legislation. Functions can be permissive or prescriptive. They constitute the principal themes of business of any organisation.

Examples of functions:

City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-FUN-4, Electric power generation and supply, 1896-1935
City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-FUN-14, Parks and public spaces management, 1869+
City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-FUN-16, Street engineering, 1842+
State Records Authority of NSW
NSR-FUN-5, Recreation and culture, 1788+
State Records Authority of NSW
NSR-FUN-11, Infrastructure and communications, 1788+


A ministry is the body of ministers who hold warrants from the Head of State as members of the Executive Council. A ministry comprises a number of portfolios. A ministry is often named for the Premier who led it. Coalition ministries are often named after both leaders.

This entity is not used by the City of Sydney version of Archives Investigator.


A portfolio is the responsibility, or combination of responsibilities, assigned to a particular minister.  Portfolios administer agencies.

This entity is not used by the City of Sydney version of Archives Investigator.


An agency is an administrative or business unit which has responsibility for carrying out some designated part of the overall set of functions belonging to an organisation.

Every agency is controlled by an organisation. An eganency may also control, or be controlled, by another agency - for example when a Head Office controls a network of regional offices.

Examples of agencies:

City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-AGY-10, Parks and Recreations Department, 1948-1988
City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-AGY-47, Central Sydney Planning Committee, 1989+
City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-AGY-75, Inspector of Nuisances, 1847-1900
City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-AGY-167, Military Hospitals Advisory Committee, 1915-1918
State Records Authority of NSW
NRS-AGY-1163, Railway Commissioners, 1888-1907
State Records Authority of NSW
NRS-AGY-1706, Theatres and Public Halls Branch, c1896-1995


A person is an individual who creates records, usually in an official capacity, but whose records have not been maintained in the records of the associated agency.

Examples of person:

City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-PER-9, Henry Frederick Jensen, 1913-1998 (Lord Mayor 1957-1965)
State Records Authority of NSW
NSR-PER-102, Herbert Vere Evatt, 1894-1965 (Chief Justice of NSW 1960-1962)


An activity is a part of a function. Activities are used in Archives Investigator to provide more specific functional context for record series than can be provided by a function.

Examples of activities:

City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-ACT-8, Disposal of waste by punting, tipping or destruction, 1842+
City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-ACT-29, Development applications inspection and approval, 1945+
City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-ACT-70, Personnel management, 1842+
City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-ACT-81, Licencing of boarding and lodging houses, 1878+
State Records Authority of NSW
NSR-ACT-71, Archives management, 1953+
State Records Authority of NSW
NSR-ACT-154, Railway and tramway construction, 1848+

Record Series

A record series is a group of (one or more) record items accumulated by an agency or person which have a common identity and system of control, and are generally in the same format.

A record series can be accumulated by more than one agency over time as a result of administrative change. Record series vary in size, from a single record item to many thousands of record items.

Record series are also sometimes linked to other records series –

  • a series may ‘control or be controlled’ by another (for example the relationship between an Index and the records it indexes).
  •  a series may ‘precede or succeed’ another (for example when an agency changes from index cards to a computer database to hold the records).
  •  a series may be ‘related’ to another (for example when two series of files are used to manage different aspects of the same business).

Examples of record series:

City of Sydney Archives
NSCA-CRS-2, Registers of letters received, 1853-1913

City of Sydney Archives

NSCA-CRS-34, Town Clerks Department correspondence files, 1914-1978

City of Sydney Archives

NSCA-CRS-126, Building application plans, 1909-1997

City of Sydney Archives

NSCA-CRS-1000, Olympic Games photograph library, 2000-2000

City of Sydney Archives

NSCA-CRS-1065, Glebe building registers, 1915-1949

State Records Authority of NSW

NSR-NRS-1021, New South Wales Charter of Justice, Letters patent, 1787

State Records Authority of NSW

NSR-NRS-15269, Commissioners reports on proposed railway and tramway lines, 1888-1929

State Records Authority of NSW

NSR-NRS-15318, Files relating to theatres and public halls, 1895-1932

Record item

A record item is an individual unit within a record series, and the smallest entity listed in Archives Investigator. A record item may be in any format: (for example) a file, card, volume, plan or drawing, photograph or videotape. Some record items (such as files) may contain multiple individual documents but these are not normally listed as individual entities.

In order to fully understand the significance of a record item it is vital to know what record series it forms part of. There is usually no way to determine the context or content, or format of a record item without learning about the record series.

Some records series entities in Archives Investigator show constituent recoird items as 'none'. This usually means the items have not yet been listed, not that there are no surviving items.

Examples of record items:

 City of Sydney Archives
Record item
Series of which it forms a part
TC1621/63, Cowper Wharf Rd and northern end of Lincoln Cres , improvement of street lighting, 1963-1975
Town Clerks Department correspondence files, 1914-1978
BA412/71 (box 1), Lawson Sq Redfern (TNT Plaza), 1971
NSCA-CRS-126, Building Application plans, 1909-1997
1, Erskineville Minute Book, 1893-1898
NSCA-CRS-622, Erskineville Minute Books, 1893-1948

State Records Authority of NSW
Record item
Series of which it forms a part
7774 Bushmen in the saddle on parade
NSR-NRS-1254, New South Wales Bushmen’s Contingent departure to South Africa, 1900
T27, New Moon Garden Theatre, 1909-1952
NSR-NRS-15318, Files relating to licences for theatres and public halls, 1895-1992

Only a fraction of all the record items have as yet been listed in Archives Investigator. Because of this, a ‘simple search’ may not turn up all the record items that are actually held.

We recommend you make use of the ‘structured search’ option as well, as this may enable you to identify record series containing record items of relevance, even though the items have not yet been listed in Archives Investigator.

Keep an eye on the fields ‘bridging aids’ and ‘series control status’ which will sometimes contain information about available lists of record items not in Archives Investigator.