Searching Our Archive Catalogue

Catalogue URL:

The full archive catalogue of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives is now available to the public for the first time! Users can search our archive collections alongside library material, opening a gateway to a wealth of resources on the history of women’s health and maternal wellbeing.

This brief guide provides tips for maximising the effectiveness of your archive catalogue searches and provides a glossary explaining the specialist terms used throughout the catalogue.

Give it try and see what you can find.

Basic searching for records using the catalogue

Basic searching allows you to use single or multiple keywords to identify records of interest. But results can be overwhelming when common keywords (such as ‘midwifery’) are used.

Constructing a search carefully using multiple keywords can narrow these results down.

Boolean search terms can help you to search more efficiently:

  • OR between words lets you search one or more key terms, e.g. midwifery OR obstetrics
  • * (an asterisk) can be used as a wild card, allowing you to search a variety of terms that have many of the same letters, e.g. searching midw* will bring up results for midwife, midwifery and midwives
  • ? (question marks) can replace single characters if the spelling of a word has common variations, e.g. a search of All?n will produce results for Allan and Allen.

Advanced and Expert Searching

Advanced search allows you to search in specific fields, narrowing down your results by using a more specific set of criteria.

  • For example, choosing to search for records created by the Gynaecological Visiting Society by using the Archive creator field will bring you only records created by the Society. Whereas if you searched for the Society via the basic search, you would be given every record that mentions them anywhere in its description.

advanced search archive catalogueExpert search allows you to build more complex searches. This is particularly useful if you are unfamiliar with Boolean search terms. You can also exclude search terms by selecting ‘and not’ from the drop down menu.

  • For example, if you wanted records relating to Blair-Bell, but wanted nothing from the archives of the Gynaecological Visiting Society, you can enter a search as follows:

expert search archive catalogue

Browsing the collection hierarchy

  • The hierarchy browser allows users to view where a record sits within the overall archive collection and to quickly browse neighbouring records within the same series.
  • This can provide a more interactive way of browsing the archive collection.
  • The blue plus and minus signs allow users to expand and close sections of the hierarchy.
  • Collections in red are at the lowest level of any given hierarchy.

hierarchy archive catalogue

Accessing Collections in person

  • Practical guidance on accessing the archive in person can be found on the RCOG Heritage Blog:
  • Contact details for the Archive can be found at the end of this guide
  • We ask that researchers give staff at least one week’s notice when requesting archive material
  • Researchers should aim to be as specific as possible when requesting archive material, providing the reference codes of material wherever possible to allow staff to prepare in advance.

screenshot archive catalogue

Glossary of special terms

Reference Every document has a unique reference code, which is used to distinguish collections and items within collections. References also identify where a collection sits within the archive as a whole.

References beginning with RCOG and RCM are part of the RCOG’s and RCM’s institutional collections respectively and those beginning with S or RCMS are part of the RCOG and RCM special collections respectively.

Special collections Our special collections are archives donated from institutions, groups or individuals outside the RCOG and RCM. These collections relate to the fields of obstetrics, gynaecology and midwifery.

These collections are usually accepted into the archive if they fall under the Colleges’ Collections Development Policies, which can be downloaded from here: and here:

Extent The size of a unit of archive material, e.g. one box, three files, ten photographs, etc.
Hierarchy Archives are typically arranged into a hierarchy, which attempts to replicate the collection’s previous filing structure or its ‘original order’. This hierarchy is a little like a family tree, showing where records came from, which other documents they relate to, and how.

Descriptions at the highest level of a hierarchy contain information about all records situated directly underneath it in the arrangement, such as their creators(s), dates of creation, and the research subjects they cover.

Level of description The level of description is the particular point in the collection hierarchy that is being described. For example ‘fonds’, ‘series’, ‘file’ or ‘item’.
fonds Archive collections from specific creators, institutions, families and individuals, are brought together to form a ‘fonds’.

For example, the official institutional records of the RCOG form a single fonds. As do the archives of individuals and external groups which were donated to the College, such as the personal archives of William Blair-Bell.

Series A series is grouping of records with a common function or subject. These records typically result from the same activity or filing process.

For example, the minute books of the RCOG Council form a single series and sit on the same branch of the archive hierarchy.

Creator The record creator is the institution or person that originally created a record. This is not always the same as the institution or person who now holds these records or who donated them to the archive.
Closed until This indicates the date a record will be opened to general public access.

RCOG and RCM institutional archives are usually closed for 20 years form their dates of creation. This includes minutes and meeting papers, and unpublished official correspondence.

Records holding sensitive information, such as the personal data of living people, are usually temporarily closed in line with national and international data protection regulations.

Related units These are collections held within the RCOG and RCM collection which relate to the archive material being described.

This may include records by the same creator, covering the same event, or relating to the same subject.

Archival history The archival history describes the circumstances by which a collection has made it into the archive and how the collection has been handled since then. This information typically includes the name of the donor or information on other departments and repositories which previously held the collection.

It may also describe any changes made to the arrangement of the collection by the archive or mention where new additions to the collection were made.

Contacting the Archive

Please be aware that the Archive is staffed part-time and that staff aim to respond to all enquiries within ten working days of receipt.

  • Email:
  • Telephone: +44 20 7772 6381
  • Website:
  • Address: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 27 Sussex Place, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4RG, UK
  • RCOG Switchboard: +44 20 7772 6200