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History Day: Using the Seattle Municipal Archives Databases and Guides

The Seattle Municipal Archives has produced several online databases to assist researchers in locating needed records. With the exception of the photograph database, the Municipal Archives databases tell you what is in the archives, but do not provide the text of records in an online format. You will need to visit the archives to see the materials listed in the databases. Note that each database search page includes a link to tips for making searches more efficient and productive.

Photograph Database
The Photograph Database provides access to more than 100,000 digital images dating from 1900 to 1984. Because the bulk of the images in the archives are negatives, this database provides the best access to them. The majority of images are indexed by subject. They can be searched by keyword or subject, time period, and neighborhood. This database does not represent all of the photographic holdings of the Archives and images are continually being added. Please contact the Archives if you do not find what you are looking for, especially for dates after 1950.

Records Series Database
The Record Series Database provides a broad description of over 1,000 records series preserved in the archives, dating from 1869 to the present. A record series is a unit of records filed together because they serve a similar function or activity. For example, City Council Minutes or Parks Superintendent Correspondence comprise two separate record series. The Record Series Database is very useful for determining whether or not the records of a specific City agency are held by the Archives.

The database also provides information about subjects in the records. For example, a search for "Police Department" finds 29 record series. However, only two of these series were created by the Police Department; the others, from different agencies, contain information about the Police Department.

From most record series, there is a link to a folder list, which provides file folder titles for the entire collection.

Subject Files Database
The Subject Files Database includes folder titles and dates for almost all of the file folders in all of the record series in the Archives. There are over 75,000 files folder titles included in the database.

The Subject Files Database is very helpful for determining the quantity of material available on a specific subject. For example, a search on the word "Skagit" results in 267 folder titles; a search for "Ross Dam" brings up only 30 titles, illustrating the importance of narrowing one's topic.

It is helpful to remember when using this database that folder titles are those used by the creator of the records and the titles are not subject indexed using a controlled vocabulary. It is helpful to search under synonyms. For example, a search for "dumps" yields different results than "landfills."

Documents Database
Published and widely disseminated reports and studies are cataloged, indexed, and preserved in a government documents collection. The Documents Database can be searched by author, title word or subject. It is useful for looking at studies and reports on a specific subject. For example, a search on "comprehensive plan" yields 124 documents, indicating it would be helpful to refine the topic by neighborhood or time period.

Most of the documents in this collection date from the 1970s to the present. However, there are a significant number of older documents dating back as far as 1896.

Legislative Databases
The Office of the City Clerk maintains online databases to legislative records, including Ordinances, Resolutions, and Clerk Files. The Clerk's site also includes databases for the current City Charter and the Municipal Code.


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