You can find a short glossary below to help you understand some of the terms used in archiving. A thorough glossary with even more terms from the fields of archiving, registries, records management and filing can be found in Chapter 5 of the online course “Aktenkunde des Holocausts” (“Holocaust Files”).
A file comprises documents that are firstly created as part of an operational activity (e.g. by a public authority) and then compiled on the basis of a particular defining feature (e.g. subject, correspondence partner).
Aktenplan (filing plan)
A filing plan is a hierarchical system structured into tasks, according to which the documents of an administrative body are recorded and compiled as files.
Aktenzeichen (file reference)
A file reference is a unique code used to match a document to a file. File references are allocated by public authorities on the basis of a filing plan. File references are usually indicated on files alongside the file title.
Amtsdrucksachen / Amtliche Druckschriften (official publications)
These are publications issued by public authorities (e.g. laws, ordinances, bulletin of the Federal Government); they are organised into a separate collection in the Federal Archives.
Archivale / Archivalien (item/s)
An item is the smallest individually described unit of archive material.
Archivgut (archive material)
Archive material comprises documents – particularly from public bodies – that are deemed to be suitable for archiving by an archivist. Archive material is subject to specific legal conditions, especially with regard to storage, but also with regard to access and usage.
Aufbewahrungseinheit (storage unit)
This is a unit of stored documents. A storage unit may contain several descriptive units and records.
Aufbewahrungsfrist (retention period)
This is the legally stipulated length of time for the storage of documents or the length of time established by the source during which the documents are still required for administrative purposes. Any documents that are deemed unsuitable for archiving may only be destroyed (“cancelled”) at the end of a retention period. The retention period should be distinguished from the archival term of protection.
Selection means the offering and submission of documents from a public authority to the responsible archive.
Bestand (fonds / holdings)
A fonds is a key element for the arrangement of material within an archive. It ideally contains archive material created by a public authority, a natural person (see estate) or a legal person, or it denotes a themed collection. Each fonds has a description and reference (see reference code).
This is the process in which an archivist decides which documents are to be permanently retained as archive material and which are to be destroyed (“cancelled”) at the end of their retention period. Please also refer to our information on appraisal principles.
An edition is an annotated publication of sources with an academic approach. Editions may be issued in print or in an electronic form.
Cataloguing is the arrangement and description of archive material, including a review of the structures and history of fonds and sources. The result of cataloguing is the development of archival finding aids.
Catalogues are used to compile the descriptive information held on archive material in fonds. Their contents include an explanatory introduction, a structure (similar to a table of contents) and a structured list of the described archive material. Catalogues are no longer created in the Federal Archives, as the same information is now available on invenio to facilitate online searches across several fonds.
Findmittel (finding aid)
A finding aid is any instrument that makes it possible to obtain information on the contents of fonds, parts of fonds and files. Finding aids include search tools, databases, catalogues, card catalogues and directories, as well as simple lists detailing the source of archive material.
Genealogy is the research of family history or ancestry. Genealogy deals with the origins of people or groups of people, such as families.
This is the destruction of documents that are deemed unsuitable for archiving (see appraisal).
This describes the hierarchical arrangement of a fonds to which descriptive units are assigned during cataloguing. Classification is usually carried out according to formal or logical and objective criteria (e.g. a filing plan).
Conservation is any measure taken to physically preserve undamaged items or stabilise individual pieces of damaged archive material.
Laufender Meter (linear metre)
This is a unit of measurement for archive material. The standard dimensions of a linear metre of professionally bound DIN A4 archive material are 26 x 35 x 100 cm. It is sometimes abbreviated to “LM”.
Mikrofilm / Mikroform (microfilm / microform)
Microform is the generic term for the depiction of printed documents on film in a reduced form. A distinction must be made between microfiches (which come in the form of a small card) and microroll film (in reels). Microforms can only be read using special reading devices. Archives often provide microforms for the use of frequently requested items or vulnerable items that need to be conserved.
Nachlass (personal papers)
Personal papers are made up of archivable documents originating from a natural person. They are added to an archive as a deposit, donation or purchase and usually form a separate fonds.
Personenbezogene Unterlagen (personal documents)
These are documents whose purpose or essential contents relate to natural persons (e.g. personnel files). They are subject to special terms of protection.
Pertinence (from the Latin pertinere, “to belong to”) is the principle of arranging documents according to their territorial, personal or factual contents without regard to their provenance.
Provenienz, Provenienzstelle (provenance)
Provenance means the organisation, individual or family that creates, compiles and/or continues and uses a document within the scope of their activities. Such sources are also referred to as “registry creators” in administrative fields. According to the respect des fonds principle, documents submitted by one particular source are usually kept together in one fonds.
Provenienzprinzip (respect des fonds)
Respect des fonds refers to the principle of arranging archives according to their origins and provenance.
The registry is the division of a public authority tasked with collecting, arranging and storing the documents required for its ongoing business. It therefore plays a central role in records management.
This describes the return of archive material to the storeroom after use.
This refers to the restitution of damaged pieces using identical or similar substances. For reasons of authenticity, archive material is restored in such a way that the intervention can be noticed. Unlike with the restoration of artwork, aesthetics do not play a central role.
This refers to the process by which finding aids are gathered and made available in a digital format.
Sachakten (thematic files)
Thematic files are a compilation of documents with common contents.
A collection is a compilation of individual pieces that are put together on the basis of a special collection interest or topic without regard to their provenance.
Schriftgutverwaltung (records management)
Within state bodies and other organisations, records management involves the arrangement, registration, provision, storage and selection of documents. The aim is to make it possible to determine the processing status of documents at any time, in order to trace the administrative actions of such bodies.
Schutzfrist (term of protection)
In accordance with archiving laws, archive material is subject to a term of protection, during which it is not yet made accessible for general use. This term varies depending on the reason for protection (see retention period).
Signatur (reference code/reference number)
A reference code (or archive reference code) is a combination of numbers and letters used to mark and identify an individual item in an archive. It consists of a fonds reference and archive number, linking an individually described piece with the finding aid. Please also refer to our information on referencing.
This refers to the hierarchical structure of fonds in an archive, which is usually ordered according to constitutional and administrative history, chronology, relevance and provenance. Tectonics makes it possible to search for fonds in a systematic manner.
This refers to the definition of archive material at different levels (e.g. fonds, file, record, document). A descriptive unit is usually created by forming a title, determining the period (date) and linking an item to a reference code. The information contained in a title may optionally be supplemented with a contents note. Information concerning persons or organisations in archive material may also be described.
Verzeichnungseinheit (descriptive unit)
A descriptive unit is the unit of documentation to be appraised and catalogued, e.g. a file, record, sound recording or poster.
In the field of public administration, a record contains all the documents required to process a case, as compiled by the registry. A record may be identical to a storage unit. However, a storage unit may contain several records.