Using the Search Function

The National Archives and Records Service of South Africa (NARSSA) is in the process of migrating more than 8.7 million entries from the old NAAIRS database to the new database and therefore "fulltext search"(new database) will not display all the records in the system. In the meantime NARSSA makes both databases available for use by the public. Using the "Search Old NAAIRS database" will provide a more complete search, while by utilising "Search New database" the public and participating institutions are provided the opportunity to give feedback to NARSSA regarding potential problems which might have occurred during migration.
 
To search the complete database please click on: Search Old NAAIRS database
To search the partially migrated database: Search New database
 
 

 

1

Background to NAAIRS Database and what it contains

The National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS) serves as a finding aid to assist users of archives to identify and locate archival material that is relevant to their requirements. NAAIRS contains only information about archival material and not the actual texts of documents. Having identified relevant material, a user would usually arrange to visit the repository concerned to consult the documents, or request further information or copies where such services are available.

The maintenance of NAAIRS is a function assigned to the National Archives and Records Service (NARSSA) by the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa Act (No 43 of 1996 as amended), which also requires all provincial archives services to participate in it. The majority of the archives referred to by NAAIRS are therefore public records in the custody of the National Archives Repository and provincial archives repositories. However, NAAIRS also incorporates national registers of non-public records (private papers) in the custody of a large number of repositories throughout South Africa. NAAIRS is therefore an integrated archival information retrieval system which has the capability of identifying archival material on a given subject irrespective of whether it is public or non-public, its location or type.

The automation of archival retrieval commenced in 1974 and is an on-going project with approximately 250 000 computer records being added to NAAIRS each year. Currently there are about nine million records available on the system. Each of these records refers to an individual archival unit, like a correspondence file. In the case of the National Register of Manuscripts (NAREM) however, each record refers to a collection or group of papers.

As automation is an ongoing project, a significant part of the archival holdings, probably more than half, are not yet reflected in NAAIRS. Manual finding aids, such as inventories and lists, are used as retrieval mechanisms for these archives. The manual finding aids are available in the reading rooms of archival repositories, and some of them have been published on the website.

The information on the system has generally been prepared using the original descriptions given to archival records by the offices that created or received them. The data is therefore in "natural language" and does not include controlled vocabulary based on authority lists or thesauri. A significant proportion of the data is in Afrikaans (as are the archives to which they refer), and the balance is in English. The formulation of search queries to search the system should take these facts into account.

Enquiries about archival information should be directed to the relevant archives repository.

2

New Database

The new database has been developed to facilitate an easier more user friendly way of searching for information.

3

Explanation of Information Fields in old NAAIRS Database

A record format containing standard information categories or paragraph names is used for the processing of data for all databases. Depending on the type of archives to which the information refers, certain of the information categories may be omitted. The information categories are explained below. N.B. For the physical retrieval of archives for consultation, the information in the following paragraphs is necessary: DEPOT, SOURCE, VOLUME NO and REFERENCE.

Repository: The archives repository at which the archives concerned are housed. An acronym or abbreviated version is usually given. See Acronyms and names used to identify archival repositories (depots) and contact details.

Source: Archives are kept as entities or sources according to the office that created or received them. Each of these sources has a code that is given in this paragraph. For example, DWB stands for Director of the Weather Bureau. See Source codes for details or the publication List of Computerised Sources, which is available from the National Archives and Records Service, Private Bag X236, Pretoria 0001.

Type: The physical type of the relevant archives is given in this information category. On certain databases the Afrikaans terms are used throughout as a standard to facilitate retrieval. See Types of archives for details.

Volume no and reference: This information enables the physical location of an item to be identified.

System: Where more than one classification system was used by an office historically, the number of the particular classification system is indicated here.

Part no: Where there is more than one file with the same reference number, the number of the part is indicated here.

Description: A synoptic description of the archival unit is given. In many cases it is the title of a file as it was used by the office that created it.

Starting and ending: The terminal dates of an item which spans a period of time.

Remarks: Explanatory details such as cross-references are given here.

Summary: This paragraph is used only in data pertaining to the national registers of non-public records. A synoptic overview is given of the contents of a collection in a National Register of Manuscripts (NAREM) entry, and a listing of individual items in a National Register of Audio-visual Material (NAROM) entry, such as cuts of a gramophone record.

4

Explanation of Information Fields in new Database

Identifier consist of: Repository; source code; file reference number; volume number; part number; and box number.

Archivist's notes if displayed consists of: remarks and summary on the old NAAIRS Database.

Repository: The archives repository at which the archives concerned are housed. If repository is clicked, details of the repository is displayed e.g. street address, contact details, etc.

5

Do you only keep records relating to South Africa?

Yes. The major holdings of the National Archives and provincial archives services are records of South African governmental bodies. There are smaller collections of non-public records relating to South African organisations and individuals. The holdings reflected in the registers of non-public records in the custody of participating archival repositories are also largely South African in origin.

6

Why can't I find my record in the new website?

One reason would be that the old NAAIRS database is in the process of being migrated to a new database. Due to the volume of the work involved this process will take almost a year. For this reason the SEARCH OLD NAAIRS DATABASE button on this page will take you to the old (and complete) database.

You are more than welcome to use the FULLTEXT SEARCH button at the bottom of the page as this will take you to the new database which is being updated daily, but please bear in mind that the information on this database is not complete yet.

Another reason for not finding the record that you are looking for would be that it has not been ingested into the system yet. In this case you will have to make use of the manual inventories available in the Reading Rooms of the different repositories.

7

Structuring of old NAAIRS database queries

Retrieval of records in NAAIRS is effected by the use of search words. As no controlled vocabulary such as that contained in authority lists or thesauri is used in the preparation of the data, the user is free to formulate appropriate search words independently. Usually the names of persons and places are used, as well as subjects. It should be noted however that any word or character string (such as a reference number or date) in a record in NAAIRS may serve as a keyword to effect retrieval.

It is important to emphasise that generally the descriptions of archival items given in NAAIRS, and particularly those relating to correspondence files, are those allocated by the offices which generated the records. In formulating search words, it would therefore be appropriate to attempt to replicate the terminology that would probably have been used in the context of public administration rather than, say, the academic analysis of a matter. As a significant proportion of the records in NAAIRS are in Afrikaans, as are the archives to which they refer, retrieval on the basis of subjects will in some cases not be complete without the addition of search words in Afrikaans.

In NAAIRS upper and lower case letters are regarded being equivalent. It is therefore not necessary to capitalise any search words. Lower case may be used throughout.

It is sufficient to use a single keyword. Where combinations of search words are used for greater precision in retrieval, the search words need to be linked with operators which indicate the relationship between the search words. NAAIRS has been designed to prompt the user and to indicate all the options available. For clarity, explanations of the operators available, and examples of queries are given below.

OPERATORS

a Adjacent b

Records having a and b immediately adjacent, with no words in between, in the order given.

a AND b

Records having a and b anywhere in the record.

a NEAR b

Identical to ADJ except that a and b may occur in either order.

a NOT b

Records which contain a but not b.

a OR b

Records which contain either a or b, or both a and b.

EXAMPLES OF QUERIES

AND
albert and luthuli
rock and paintings

Adjacent
albert Adjacent luthuli
rock Adjacent paintings

OR
moshesh or moshoeshoe or moshweshwe

NOT
mining not gold

NEAR
albert near luthuli

8

Types of archives

The physical type or medium of the relevant archives is given in the information category or paragraph TYPE. On certain databases the Afrikaans terms are used uniformly throughout as a standard to facilitate retrieval. The listing below indicates the terms used, their meanings and translations.

The types used regarding public records are:

Leer (correspondence file)
Ander Argiewe (archives other than correspondence files, e.g. minute books, financial records and registers)
Ampt Pubs (Official Publications). N.B. This term appears in the information category SOURCE.

The types regarding non-public records are:

Aanwins (accession), manuskrip (manuscript), private versameling (private collection). These terms are synonymous and all refer to papers of private individuals or institutions in the custody of repositories participating in the National Register of Manuscripts (NAREM).

Foto (photo). These terms refer to photographs in the custody of institutions participating in the National Register of Photographs (NAREF).

Kaart (map). These terms refer to cartographic material in the custody of national and provincial archives repositories.

Boek (book), tesis (thesis), pamflet (pamphlet). These terms refer to library material in the custody of national and provincial archives repositories.

Mikrofilm (microfilm). These terms refer to micrographic material in the custody of national and provincial archives repositories.

The types regarding audio-visual material are as follows:

Plaat (gramophone record): These terms refer to gramophone records in the custody of repositories that participate in the National Register of Audio-Visual Material.

Film: This term refers to motion pictures in the custody of repositories that participate in the National Register of Audio-Visual Material.

Klankkasset (audio cassette): These terms refer to audio cassettes in the custody of repositories that participate in the National Register of Audio-Visual Material.

Kompakskyf (compact disk): These terms refer to compact disks in the custody of repositories that participate in the National Register of Audio-Visual Material.

Video: This terms refers to videos in the custody of repositories that participate in the National Register of Audio-Visual Material.