Understanding how State Records of SA manages its collection

The South Australian Government established archives in 1919 and set about gathering up the surviving records for the past 80 plus years. The material held represents items deemed worthy of preservation and no longer used by the particular government agency. The archive stores the material on behalf of the agency who technically retain ownership.

Archives manage collections rather differently from libraries. Essentially material is kept grouped by the agency that generated the material rather than its subject. This can have some problems for the researcher trying to locate a particular record.

Like all repositories, the archive or library is only as good as its finding aids. There is little point storing heaps of records that no one knows about and therefore it is an on-going process to modify and update the catalogue and especially the descriptions of the material held. Online catalogues are rarely all embracing and this is the case with State Records of SA which has only relatively recently adopted a computerised catalogue.

State Records of SA is a relatively new organisation responsible for the records generated by government agencies. Prior to 1986 it was part of the State Library and collected non-government material too. When it was split away many records, previously holding accession numbers were grouped into new series. If you come across an old reference to a piece with the prefix letter A, then it is likely that this item has a new identifier. For example:

Ships Manifests Feb 1838 to Apr 1842 were A743 and are now grouped GRG41/8 where,
GRG = Government Record Group,
41 = Customs Department,
8 = this particular set of records of three volumes.

To locate a particular item you need to add more information. Thus to locate the first volume which covers Feb 1838 to Sep 1839 of the above example we require two additional pieces of information, the Consignment Number and Unit ID. Thus we have GRG41/8/0/1. where:

0 = Consignment (0 indicates a Consignment number was not used—GRG & MRG did not use this system)
1 = Unit (ie Volume 1 in this case but could be a box, a folder, a bundle, etc)

We can have a further division, an Item if the Unit contains files etc. Normally we would not call up an item but we need to use this when recording the source of the information. In the case of our example there is no Item as the material is contained within a book.

Other series prefix letters you will find are MRG = Municipal Record Group and GRS = Government Record Series.

State Records also prepare Special Lists to add a further dimension to the catalogue. In the case of family history, these lists are often lists of names on individual files (ie Items) and can prove very helpful. Few are computerised. One special list that has been placed into a database is the names of the passengers listed in the Official Passenger Lists of Emigrants selected by the Colonisation Commissioners 1845–1886 (GRG35/48a). This Special List (GRG35/48/1) that has been placed online at the State Records web site: Whereas Special List GRG7/18 which represents the names of agricultural labourers corresponding with the Immigration Department in GRG7/23 has not been computerised.

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