Searching the Archives Descriptive Database


The Archives Descriptive Database is an online catalogue designed to help you find archival materials in the collection of the Archives of Ontario.

Some important information about the database


  • Archival records are organized by the person, organization or Ontario government office that created or accumulated them.  Knowing a bit more about how archival records are organized may help you to search the database more effectively. See How Archival Records are Organized for more information.

  • Although the database may be helpful for some family history research, the best place to start looking for this type of information is our research guide Sources of Family History. If you wish to search historic birth marriage and death records, please see our Ontario Vital Statistics  webpages.

  • The information in the Archives Descriptive Database is not yet complete. New information is added to the catalogue on a regular basis. In the meantime, you may have to consult inventories in one of our reading rooms to find what you need.

  • Once you have identified material that interests you, it can be consulted in our reading room at 134 Ian Macdonald Boulevard in Toronto. In some cases, archival materials that have been microfilmed can be borrowed through your local library; you can find specific microfilm reel references in our Microfilm Interloan Catalogue. Some visual material has been digitized and may be viewed through the Visual Database.

  • Please be aware that some records are subject to restrictions because of legislation or at the request of a donor.  The database indicates when restrictions apply.

  • It is often best to send an enquiry in advance of a visit to the archives. Staff can then advise you whether there may be records at the Archives relating to your enquiry.

  • Please note that you cannot bookmark search results in the database. You may, however, Select and Email Selected Descriptions.

Searching the Database


There are three main search options for the Archives Descriptive Database:

Option 1: Keyword Searching

Search the database using keywords relating to a topic, person or place.

Keyword Search Tips

All or any of these keywords and exact phrase searching:

  • Use All of these keywords to get hits that contain all of the keywords that you have chosen.

    Example: entering the keywords “milk” and “cheese” will return descriptions that include both of these words.

  • Use Any of these keywords to get hits that contain any of the keywords chosen.

    Example: entering the keywords milk and cheese will return descriptions that include either or both of these words.

  • Use Exact Phrase to get hits that contain your keywords in the order you have entered them.

    Example: entering the keywords “water quality” will return descriptions including that exact phrase.

General Keyword Search Tips:

  • You can truncate your search using * . This will locate words that have a common stem.
    Example: Entering farm* will match farm, farming, farmer, farmers etc.
  • Common words will be ignored. These include: the, a, an, in, of, and, these

Option 2: Browsing a list of “Record Creators”

Search the database by browsing an alphabetical list of the people, organizations and Ontario government offices that have created archival records.

Option 3: Advanced Search Options

Use advanced search options to make more refined searches on the database.