Glossary of terms

Below you can find a quick explanation for some of the terms you may come across when using the Geological Society Archive Catalogue.

Ref No

The unique archive reference number, which identifies a series, file or item, ie GSL/CFN/STU. Used to create the hierarchical structure of archive collections.


The short title given to a series, file or item.


Date when the series, file or item was created. Where the precise date is not known, a suggested date or date span is given. These are indicated by being enclosed in square brackets, ie [1815] or [1815-1820] or [1850s], etc.

Date note

When a suggested date is given, extra, explanatory information may be added in this field, ie the date is based on the creator’s known activity or the watermark of the paper.


Archive collections are described in an hierarchical manner. The organising body or creator, in this case the Geological Society is the highest level (the Archive Ref prefixed with ‘GSL’), which is then is broken into functional series, subseries, subsubseries, file then item. The higher level descriptions generally give more information on background and context, whilst the lower level descriptions give more specific information on the files or items in the collection. The Deposited Series (the Archive Ref prefixed with ‘LDGSL’), is a collation of separate items generally donated to the Society over its existence. The series is gradually being recatalogued to bring material by the same creator together.


Used to record the physical size of the series, file or item described in the catalogue record.


Denotes the item’s format, added to help search for specific categories of visual material. Images of people, that is where the subject is an individual or group of people is categorised as ‘Portrait’. The category ‘Photograph/drawing/painting/print’ is used for inanimate things such geological features, fossils, etc. Anything that is a map or a section is clearly ‘Map/section’.


Contains a description of the contents of a series, file or item. The lower the hierarchy, the fuller the description is likely to be. Some files or items only have limited descriptions at present, but these will be enlarged when recatalogued.

Administrative History

Contains contextual or biographical history on the series, file, item and/or its creator. The upper hierarchies generally contain fuller contextual information, however where relevant information is occasionally added to lower level descriptions.

Custodial History

Used to record anything of note which has happened to a collection, series, file or item since it has been in the Society's possession. For instance if it was held initially in another department before being transferred.


Records information on the immediate source of the donation/transfer of the collection or item.


Used to record any appraisal, scheduling or destruction actions taken or planned for the collection which may be relevant to its interpretation.


Used to record expect accruals to the collection.


Records the system of arrangement adopted for the collection. By rule of thumb, archives are kept in their original order as much as possible. However sometimes there is no discernible order or the collection would be unusable kept as it was. In this case, the archivist may rearrange the collection, but any changes to the legacy arrangement should be noted in this field.

Access conditions

Indicates if the contents of the series, file or item is restricted in any way, ie for business reasons or it contains confidential information.


Notes the language of the material.

Physical description

Records any unusual format that will affect access. For instance if it is an audio cassette or digital file.

Finding aids

Records any additional hand lists, etc, to help find items. Only used for uncatalogued collections.

Related material

Records other archive material directly relating to the creator or series, file or item, such as a letter of donation, or something else which originally accompanied it or makes reference to it. Can also contain information on related archive holdings held elsewhere.

Publication note

Generally used to record a publication which has been based on the series, file or item. Occasionally used to record other publications which are strongly related.

Archivist's note

Used to record any primary or secondary sources used to prepare the historical context of a description, and also who compiled the catalogue description.


Contains the broad subject terms from the catalogue’s inbuilt thesaurus, ie ‘Volcanic eruptions’.


Contains more precise subject terms which have been added as they are either too geological, ie ‘Jurassic’ or are unique to our collections ‘Admission of Women’.

*Note: only a limited proportion of the collection has been subject indexed.

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