University of St Andrews

University Library Special Collections


Tips for searching the archive catalogue

This database has a sophisticated search function, and while free text searching will produce good results for most people, there are other options which can help. The catalogue cannot display more than 5000 records, so if you get an error message reporting too many records, please refine your search.

Sometimes this catalogue works better in one browser than another, depending on your computer settings – try a different browser if you are having difficulties.


Using the wildcard asterisk * to search for parts of a word will increase the number of results. It can be placed at the start or end of a word, or even in the middle.

  • cat* will find catalogue and catering
  • *berry will find raspberry and Queensberry
  • el*nor will find Elinor and Eleanor

You will also need to use * to find singular and plural of the same word, eg cake* will find both cake and cakes.

Widen, Narrow and Exclude buttons

After your initial search, you can refine your search. Use the back button to return to the search boxes, enter another search term and click on one of the Widen, Narrow and Exclude buttons.

Widen will search for your last search term or your new term, so you get more hits.

Narrow will look for the old search term and the new one in the same record, so giving you fewer hits.

Exclude searches for the old search term and excludes records which contain the new search term. You will get fewer hits.

Searching for dates

The catalogue can search for dates in many different formats, for example:

  • a single date eg 1775
  • a range of dates eg 1890-1899
  • an approximate date i.e. late 16th century
  • using circa eg c. 1423.

These will bring up results which include these dates even if the date is not specifically mentioned in the record, for example a search for 1695 will return results including 1690s, 1650-1712 and 17th century.  

Names of people and places

Particularly in records of older items, spelling of place names and proper names can vary tremendously even within the same document. We have tried to add standardised spelling to recently created records but many will have only the old variants so you may have to try a number of spellings, even when looking for common names. Using the wildcard asterisk would be very helpful here.

  • St Andrews can appear as Sancte Androis, St Andreos, Sanct Andros, Sant Androis, Sanct Andrews or Sancti Andree.
  • Taylor may be spelt Tailor, Tailzeour, Tailzeor, Tailziour, Tailzoir, Tailzour, Tailzer, Tailzior, Taylzer, Taylzeoure, Taylzowr, Taylzeour, Taylzor and Taylzeor.

Sorting your results

Click on Call Number, Title or Date to sort the results into order of that option. Date sorting will put records with no date or complex date information at the start.

Detailed descriptions

 'Details' will take you to the full catalogue entry for each item in the hitlist. The information at the top tells you where the record lies within the collection it belongs to and what the higher levels are. There will be a description of the item or file, and sometimes biographical notes on the person who created it or people mentioned in the document or documents. This information is usually in the collection level record. The extent field will tell you how much material is being described in the entry as this can vary enormously. There are many item-level entries i.e. for individual letters, but there are also collections which so far have only been catalogued at box or series level and so will have basic information. We update the catalogue regularly, and aim to expand these basic records into full descriptions when we can.

You can move to the next or previous record with the arrows, as well as to the first and last records, or go back to the hit list via the record number above the catalogue entry.


We are starting to add thumbnail images to the catalogue. High quality digital images are available to purchase. Please note that the images on this website are available for private study only. Reproduction, publication or commercial use of any image will only be allowed with written permission from the Division of Special Collections.

The hierarchical tree

'See this record in context' takes you into the tree, and allows you to browse the whole collection. Many collections are arranged into sections to make it easier to understand the relationships between the archives in that collection, and you may find browsing through the tree will lead you to related items that may help with your research.

Click on the folders to open each section, and on the document icon to see the catalogue entry for that file or item.


The catalogue entries try to be self-expanatory but some of them include abbreviations so here is a guide to the most common ones:

n.d. No date given

n.y. No year given

n.p. No place given (meaning place where the letter was written) 

A.L.S. Autograph letter signed (handwritten and signed by the writer)

[ ] information in square brackets has been supplied by the cataloguer from other sources

Manuscript or muniment?

Not quite sure what the difference is? Learn about how to distinguish between our different archival collections.

Collection development policy

Discover how the Special Collections Division makes decisions on the development of its manuscript and muniment collections.

Current projects

Read about the exciting projects the Archive team is currently working on, and those that have been completed recently.