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University Archives: Searching the online descriptions database

Information about how to conduct research at the Mount Allison University Archives


Open By Appointment

The Mount Allison University Archives are open by appointment only.

Please e-mail or telephone 506-364-2563 to request an appointment.


The Mount Allison University Archives are located on the third floor of the Ralph Pickard Bell Library. You can download our campus map (pdf) or get directions on how to get to campus.

Searching the archives online descriptions database


The Descriptions Database is Mount Allison University Archives’ on-line access tool.  With this database, you can find descriptions of records we hold, in all media.

The Archives holds both the archival records of Mount Allison University, but also the records of individuals, organizations and community groups in Sackville and the greater Chignecto Region.  All records are searched in the same Descriptions Database.

Searching with the Descriptions Database will most often give you a description of records we hold – NOT an image of the actual documents.  These descriptions will enable you to identify potential research materials and design proper research strategies.

However, sometimes, particularly with photographs, a description will have an associated digital image of the item with it.

The associated digital images are of aged photographs and documents that contain blemishes, scratches, tears and other imperfections.  The Archives made a policy decision that the images will not be digitally enhanced during digitization.  Our intent is to present history, not art.

The Descriptions Database is a work-in-progress. We add descriptions continually as records processing is completed, so visit often!


Search Tips     (***The Descriptions Database uses Boolean searching***)
  • * = truncation. For example:  admin* retrieves administration, administer, administrator, etc.
  • & = both words. For example: budget & committee retrieves descriptions with BOTH words
  • / = either word.  For example: college / university retrieves items with EITHER word.  For example: Thompson / Pickard retrieves items indexed on both the maiden and married name of Hannah Maynard Thompson Pickard.
  • Use a colon to search an inclusive date range. For example:  1968 : 1975 finds items dated between 1968 and 1975.
  • Use >, <, >=, <= for greater or less than. For example: <1923 finds dates earlier than 1923, but <= finds dates earlier than and including 1923.


Precision searching

Putting your search term in the Title field may produce more precise results than using the Any Word or Phrase field.  For example, a photograph that primarily features the Owens Art Gallery will have that name in the Title field.  If you put Owens Art Gallery in the Any Word or Phrase field, you will also get records for which the Owens is not the focus, but in which it is mentioned as an aside (perhaps a photograph of another building but with the Owens in the background).

If you know the name of the person or office or organization that created the records you are looking for, then put that creator’s name in the Part Of field for more precise results.  If you wish to see a list of all the creators whose records have been entered into Descriptions Database thus far, click on the Browse button, to the right of the field. This list is alphabetical and you can go to the next screen by clicking next in the upper right-hand corner.  On this Browse list, all offices of Mount Allison University will be preceded by the words Mount Allison University.  For example, to find records of the Registrar, click next until you get to the M screen and there you will see “Mount Allison University. Office of the Registrar”.

If you want only photographs, then put the word Graphic in the Material Designation field.  For a list of terms to use for other formats, click on the Browse button, to the right of the field.

If you want records from a limited time period, place outside dates in the Date Range field using Boolean searching. For example, if your grandfather had a common name, such as Smith, and he attended Mount Allison University between 1930 and 1935, then put 1930 : 1935 in the Date Range field and his surname in the Any Word or Phrase.  This will limit the number of records about Smith that you retrieve. 

Descriptions Database Orientation – How to Interpret Search Results

Your search results hit list will be posted as a summary from which you will be able to obtain more detailed descriptions.

Search Results - Summary Hit List

The search results summary hit list contains brief information that will help you decide how relevant the documents are to your research and whether you would like to learn more about a particular hit.  At the top of the page, you will be told how many hits you found with your search. For each, in bold you will see the title and the date.  The Description Level field will tell you whether the description is of a whole fonds, or of a series, subseries, file or item within a fonds. The Part Of field will tell you the name of the fonds of which the material is a part.

If you want more information, click on View Full Record to get a Full Display Hit List with detailed descriptions.

If you get a hit you are interested in and want to know what else is in the fonds from which that record came, copy the name from the Part Of field into the Part Of field of a new search. You will get the totality of the records in that fonds.

Full Display Hit List

Opening this screen gives you more detailed information about the material found on the Search Results Summary Hit List.

Associated Digital Images

Sometimes the description will be accompanied by a thumbnail of an image. If you wish to see a larger version, click on Click to Enlarge. 

Descriptions Database Orientation – How to Consult the Document or Obtain a Copy
From the Full Display Hit List

If you would like to enquire about or view the original records, note the reference number and title and give that information when you contact the Archives.

The archival reference number that is needed to retrieve a document is located in the fields labeled: Accession Number, Series Number, Subseries number, File number, and Item number. (Note: In many cases, not all fields will be filled in).

For example, if you would like to consult a record that has accession number 5501, series number 9 and file number 7, you would write this number as: 5501/9/7.  Another example:  2007.07/315 is item number 315 of accession 2007.07. 

Terms of Use

Researchers are reminded that the digitized items found on the Descriptions Database are provided for the purposes of research, private study, general interest, and reference only.  For these purposes, you may reproduce (print, make photocopies, or download) materials from the database without prior permission, on the condition that you provide proper attribution of the source in all copies.  Although we do not require you to contact us in advance for these purposes, we do appreciate hearing from teachers, students, researchers, etc. who are using our resources in interesting ways.

Access to these images and the technical capacity to download them does not imply permission for re-use in commercial products, print publications, broadcasts, on a website, etc.  We require that you contact us in advance for permission to reproduce our materials for these purposes.

Materials made available in the database may also be subject to additional restrictions including but not limited to, the rights of copyright and privacy.  Users should be aware of their responsibility for determining the existence of such rights and acquiring all necessary permissions.  We reserve the right to refuse to accept a duplication request if, in our judgment, fulfillment of the request would involve violation of copyright law or privacy law.

For further information about the Descriptions Database and the archival documents featured on it, please contact us.



The Mount Allison University Archives encourages users of our Descriptions Database to leave comments, constructive criticism, suggestions, etc. about the database. To submit your comments to the Archives or to enquire about specific records please contact us.

Archival Databases

You can search descriptions of the Archives' holdings and photographs from the Picture Collection and related fonds / collections by using our Descriptions Database. See our search tips.

The Chignecto Isthmus Database provides access to historical material on the people and places of the Tantramar region held by the Ralph Pickard Bell Library.

Questions? Ask the University Archivist.

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David Mawhinney
Room 306
Ralph Pickard Bell Library
49 York Street
Sackville, NB E4L 1C6