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German archives: a guide to discovering and using them: Start here

This guide is designed to help you finding your way through German archives and to enable you identifying exactly what you need for your research - quick and easy.

What is an archive - and why use it?

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Letters, manuscripts, legal documents, state or company records, diaries, speeches, audio or visual records, photographs, sketches and paintings or even physical objects like tools, croquery, vehicles or clothing ...

An archive preserves primary sources. Usually, these sources have accumulated during an institution's or individual's lifetime. Therefore, they can provide first hand information of historical events. Or they may give you the opportunity to interrogate people, that have died a long time ago.

That is why an archive is the key to investigating the past.

Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique - unlike a book or a journal of which a number of more or less identical copies may exist. In contrast, an archival record is what remains of a specific incident - a letter to a specific person, a diary that someone has written, a file that was once compiled on. An archival record is therefore only ever extant in one particular archive - and nowhere else.

So before you are able to start working with archival records concerning German history you have to find them first. There are more than 3.600 archives offering their holdings and services. The German archival infrastructure is rather varied - since in itself it is the product of the very history that we are studying with its help.

This guide is designed to help you finding your way through German archives and to enable you identifying exactly what you need for your research - quick and easy.

Acknowledgement

This LibGuide was created by Ulrike Kändler as part of her internship at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, 11-29 August 2014. Without her hard work and dedication, this guide would not exist, so many thanks must go to her.