Search Tips

Archives Investigator provides three search strategies to help you to identify the records you require for your research.  These are: simple searchadvanced search, and structured search.

Each search strategy is explained below, with some examples you can follow step-by-step.

As you use Archives Investigator, watch out for text that appears in blue. This indicates the text is linked, and can be clicked on to take you to a different level of detail, or to a related entity.

The information symbols (i) that appear in various places will also give you tips. Hover your screen pointer over them to read the help text under each symbol.

 At the end of this page there is also some information about Citations for record items that you wish to inspect.

Simple Search Tips

A Simple Search query searches the titles and descriptions of all entities across the whole database, based on a word or phrase. To use this option you will need to consider key words or phrases that probably will be contained in the titles or descriptive note fields of any of the entities within Archives Investigator. Record items don’t have descriptive note fields, but they do have titles.

Type your selected word or phrase into the search box, and select your preferred options from the boxes below. Then click on the ‘Search’ button.

The Simple Search option is most effective when your enquiry is specific. For example, a search on ‘Oxford’ ( to find referebces to Oxford Street or St) would be likely to return a useful number of hits.  If you attempt too general a search (for example, by typing in ‘Sydney’) Archives Investigator will return an unmanageably large number of hits for you to sift through.

Clicking on any line in the Search Results page will take you to more detailed information about the entity you have selected. From there you can navigate to further connecting links with associated entities.

Simple Search examples

ANDREW is researching his ancestor Daniel Cooper and wants to get an idea of the sort of records, if any, that the Archives might hold about him.

  • Select ‘Simple Search
  • Use the keyword(s) ‘Daniel Cooper’
  • Select the options ‘Exact Phrase’ ‘Exact word(s) = Yes’ and ‘Item’
  • Hit the ‘search’ button

 Archives Investigator will display a list of the record items which refer to Daniel Cooper. Clicking on any one of them will lead to important contextual information about that item.

BEVERLY is doing a research project on parkland in the City of Sydney. She wants an overview of the information that is available in the Archives, before perhaps narrowing her search.

  • Select ‘Simple Search’
  • Use the keyword(s) ‘Parks’
  • Select the options ‘Exact Phrase’ ‘Exact word(s)=No’ and ‘All [entities]’
  • Hit the ‘search’ button

 Archives Investigator will tabulate all entities that meet these broad criteria, resulting in a very large number of hits. Note that if the keyword ‘park’ had been used along with the other option settings, entities about ‘car parking’ would also have been retrieved. As it is, the results will include (for example) ‘car parks’.

The first few pages of the results list feature functions, activities and agencies that are contextually relevant to parks in the City of Sydney. By following the links to these entities Beverly will find lots of contextual information about the City Council’s role of parks management, and the records comprising evidence of that role.


Advanced Search Tips

Advanced Search enables you to use a combination of criteria for more sophisticated queries across a selected entity type. The Advanced Search start page asks you to select a type of entity for searching. For each type of entity, Archives Investigator gives you a number of boxes to choose from.

The boxes are generally: entity number, entity title, descriptive note, start date, and end date. In addition, for the entity 'agency' you can elect to search for all agencies exercising a selected function, and for the entity 'record series' you can search by a selected function or activity.

If you enter dates in the start and end date boxes, Archives Investigator will show you all entities of the type you are searching, whose start date was on or later than the date you entered and whose end date was on or before the date you entered.  Entering just a start date will retrieve a list of entities which began on that date or later.  If you enter an end date only Archives Investigator will retrieve a list of those entities which ended on that date or earlier.

Clicking on any result in the Search Results page will take you to more detailed information about the particular entity you have selected. From there you can navigate to further connecting links with associated entities.

The Advanced Search strategy is a powerful research tool. For example you could use it to identify all record series linked to a particular activity or function related to your research, during the period of years in which you are particularly interested.

Advanced Search examples

CHARLES wants to see a list of all the ‘activities’ used by Archives Investigator to give detailed functional context to Council records.

  •  Select ‘Advanced Search’
  • Select the entity type ‘Activity’
  • Click on the ‘search’ button without entering any data  

Archives Investigator will tabulate a list of Activity entities.  

From this search result, it is easy to navigate to other entities and to identify records series and record items created as a result of any business activity of the Council


DIANNE is interested in the history of Pyrmont during the C19 and would like to identify record items relevant to this.

  • Select ‘Advanced Search’
  • Select the entity type ‘Record Item’
  • Enter the search term ‘Pyrmont’ in the title box
  • Enter the date range (say) 1842 – 1900 in the date boxes
  • Click on the ‘search’ button  

Archives investigator will tabulate the record items within this date range that contain the word Pyrmont in their titles. If a title is very long not all of it will be displayed. To see it in full, click on it.


EDWARD is researching public health issues in Sydney in the C19 and early C20. Initially he needs to know what Council agencies had responsibilities for public health during these years.

  • Select ‘Advanced Search’
  • Select he entity type ‘Agency’
  • Select the ‘public health’ from the Function box menu
  • Enter the date range (say) 1842 – 1920 in the date boxes
  • Click on the ‘search’ button  

Archives Investigator will deliver a list of the Council agencies responsible for aspects of public health management during this period. From this list, Edward can find out what records series will contain records about Council’s role and activities in this functional area.  

He could also refocus the search by looking at the activities that comprise the ‘public health’ function, and identify records series and items of relevance.


Structured Search Tips

The Structured Search is intended to help ensure the records are presented in the fullest possible administrative context. This option is useful if you do not have a clear idea of the functions, agencies or person which would have generated the records you need.

Structured Search provides a selection of high level entity types as a starting point.  Selecting an entity type will take you to a complete listing of all those entities.

From these lists you can select an individual entity or multiple entities to read about in more detail. The detail screens will also enable you to navigate to information about other entities at different levels which are linked to the one you initially selected.

Available search paths are:

  • Function > activity > record series > record item.
  • Function > agency > record series > record item.
  • Function > person > record series > record item.
  • Organisation > agency > record series > record item.
  • Person > record series > record item.
  • Ministry > portfolio > agency > record series > record item [State Records only]

 Structured Search examples

FRIDA needs to find all available building and development application records for the property at 363 George St Sydney.

  • Select ‘Structured Search’
  • Select ‘Function’
  • Tick Function 10 (‘Building and development regulation’) and click the option ‘view activities comprising the selected functions’.
  • Tick Activity 28 (‘Building applications …’) and Activity 29 (Development applications …’) and use the search box to enter your search term (such as the street address you are researching).

Archives Investigator will display a list of building and development records associated with the search term (address) you have entered.

If you don’t find what you expect, try a more general search term. For example if “363 George St” is unsuccessful, try “363 George” and select the ‘all words’ rather than the ‘exact phrase’ option.

Buildings in Sydney CBD sometimes have misleading addresses. For example the AMP Centre in Bridge St is normally called '50 Bridge St' but actually occupies the space at '46-60 Bridge St'.

GEORGE would like to see an overview of all the records held in the Archives, that were created by the former Glebe Municipal Council.

  • Select ‘Structured Search’
  • Select ‘Organisation’
  • Tick Organisation 3 (‘Glebe Municipal Council’) and select ‘View agencies …’
  • Tick Agency 66 (‘Glebe Municipal Council’) and select ‘View records series …’

Archives Investigator will present a list of all records series originating with the Glebe Municipal Council, now held by the City of Sydney Archives. From this point George can find out details for each records series listed, and pinpoint the records items that comprise them.

HARRIET is interested in what involvement the City Council might have had in social welfare responsibilities in the C19 and early C20, but can’t think of where to begin.

  • Select ‘Structured Search’
  • Select ‘Function’

Harriet looked at the descriptive information for some of the Functions that seemed relevant, such as ‘Charitable aid’, Public health’ and ‘Community services …’ . Then she decided to ...

  • Tick Function 7 (‘Charitable aid’) and 33 (‘Health inspections’) and click the option ‘view activities comprising the selected functions’.
  • Tick Activity 22 (‘Welfare and relief services’) and Activity 29 (Development applications …’) and click the option ‘view records series …’

Archives Investigator will present a list of all records series that contain records pertaining to the selected activities. The date range information will enable Harriet to easily see which fit her period of interest. She could then do an ‘Advanced search’ on each of those records series, using the date parameters and/or keywords to create lists of the record items that best match her research interest.


When you identify a record item you wish to inspect at the Archives, you will need to note the correct citation for it, so the archivists can retrieve the item for you. The citation comprises two elements:

The item number or control symbol, which is found in the Item detail screen.

The series number to which the record item belongs. To find this click on the 'Record series containing this item' field in the Item detail screen.