Guide to Using the Manuscript Collection

Finding Aids

Researchers should be aware that manuscript and archival materials are indexed and described differently than books or other published items located in a traditional library. Whereas a book in a library is treated as a single item when it is cataloged, the materials in a manuscript or archival repository are usually described in an overview, such as a collection inventory. Because there can be literally thousands of pages in one collection, SHSMO's staff does not describe each item. For example, the time it would take to describe each letter in a congressional collection prohibits any type of item-level description.

The finding aids at SHSMO are designed to guide researchers to a particular folder or box in a collection. From there, it is the researcher’s responsibility to locate information about their topic in the folder or box. Researchers also must keep the papers in the exact order and facing in the same direction that they found them.

A Note About Language

Language in Finding Aids

The State Historical Society of Missouri collects materials documenting all aspects of Missouri history. Some of our paper and digital collections as well as older finding aids may include harmful or outdated language and could be considered offensive. SHSMO does not censor its collections, but we endeavor to be accurate and inclusive in how we describe them.

We are committed to revising and updating our descriptive language; however, with thousands of finding aids, this is ongoing and will take time. When processing new collections, we will occasionally re-use language provided by creators and former owners of the collection because it provides important context about the materials or appears in the formal names of organizations or titles of materials in the collection. In all finding aids, archivists work to contextualize the contents of manuscript collections.

Search Terms

When searching in primary sources, including newspapers, digitized manuscripts, and even collection finding aids, you may need to search for historical terminology that is less common or considered offensive today but was used in the past.

Collection Inventories

An inventory is the most extensive description of a collection. Relevant information, such as the collection name, collection number, size, restrictions, and whether or not it is on microfilm can be found on an inventory. In addition, there are several detailed sections that include: an introduction, the donor information, a biographical or organizational sketch, the scope and content notes, and a list of materials within the collection. It is very important that researchers read over all of the sections.

Browsing by Subject or Missouri County

Researchers can access brief collection descriptions and collection inventories on SHSMO’s subject list or by using the site’s search box to search by keyword. The subject pages were derived by grouping collections under relevant topics. Some collections are listed under more than one heading, depending on the type of information they contain. Researchers can browse topics of interest, which is especially helpful for those who are not familiar with our holdings but have a specific subject in mind. The brief descriptions on the subject pages are listed in alphabetical order by collection name. In addition to the collection name, the subject pages offer concise, general information, such as the collection number, inclusive dates, size, whether a collection is restricted, and if it is available on microfilm. Many researchers benefit from browsing the inclusive dates for a collection, especially if they can narrow their topic to specific time period.

Browse Manuscripts by Subject

Browse Manuscripts by County

Restricted Collections

Restrictions on the use of certain manuscript collections may have been imposed by the donors.

Some collections may be closed until a specific date in the future and cannot be accessed until that time. For access to some collections, a researcher may need to contact the donor or other responsible party for permission. In this case, researchers must specifically ask for permission to use and to make copies from the collection. Generally, researchers ask for a letter of permission from the donor and that letter, in its original form, must be presented to the reference staff. Staff members will provide researchers with the donor’s contact information.

Other restrictions pertain to publication, whereas the donor has retained copyrights to his or her materials, and researchers must be granted permission from the donor before publishing items from the collection.

Researchers should be aware of the restrictions on photocopying and publication imposed by the Copyright Act of 1976. It is the responsibility of the researchers or their publishers to determine the copyright status or obtain the required permissions before publication of manuscript material from the Library's collections.

The online subject pages and collection inventories state whether a collection is restricted or not, but the specific restriction is not always provided. For more information about a restricted collection, researchers should contact the reference staff.