The archival materials stored by the State Archives can be researched by anyone:
- individually in a reading room,
- by asking an archivist to search for specific information (a query),
- online using the Search the Archives website and in other databases.
What can I find in the State Archives?
The State Archives store a variety of historical sources created by institutions and individuals. These include files and documents, letters, financial, technical and statistical documentation, maps and plans, photographs, films and microfilms, as well as sound and audiovisual recordings.
Our holdings comprise more than 43,757,000 archival units (such as volumes, folders, maps and films), taking up more than 368 km of space on our storage racks.
All documents created in a given region should be kept in the nearest State Archive (in accordance with the provenance principle).
Fonds, units and reference numbers
The entirety of documentation stored by an archive is divided into fonds. A fond consists of materials created and collected by an institution (such as a specific office or business), individual or family/house. Materials which have not been assigned to any fonds, that is those which could not be associated with a particular creator, are arranged into collections featuring a shared theme, such as collections of posters, manuscripts or maps and plans.
Fonds consist of archival units, which are the fundamental elements made available for perusal in reading rooms. A parchment or paper document is a unit, as is a folder, volume, map, atlas, photograph or album. In the case of certain fonds, their archival units are additionally grouped into series, which include materials that meet certain criteria (such as having been created by a certain department of their parent office, or sharing the same subject matter). Descriptions and scans of many archival units can also be found on the Search the Archives website. The easiest way to find an archival unit in an archive or online is to use its reference number (a unique identifier).
To make your search for archival materials easier, you can also use:
- guides, catalogs and registers published by the State Archive which stores the holdings in question,
- fonds lists and finding aids, which can also be accessed on the Search the Archives website and in archive reading rooms.
For more tips on how to browse the Search the Archives website, check the ‘How to search’ tab.
Availability of archival materials
Anyone can peruse the holdings stored by the State Archives. You need no authorization or justification.
At the State Archives, we do not ask our visitors about the purpose of their research. A reading room employee may ask you about it to better align their efforts with your expectations. Disclosing such information is completely voluntary, however.
You can review archival materials regardless of how well prepared you are to study historical sources. In special cases, if your lack of specialist skills could pose a risk to the materials (as in the case of very old or delicate documents, for example), you may be provided access to them in a different form, such as a copy of the original documents (particularly digital copies).
You do not need to be an adult to examine State Archives holdings.
You can research State Archives holdings free of charge.
However, you may be required to pay for certain services that facilitate the research of archival materials. If you would like to:
- search for information or data (queries),
- process these information or data (particularly by creating presentations on the content of source documents),
- create extracts, excerpts or copies,
- create visual or audio representations of archival materials (photocopies, microfilming, scans, audio recordings),
you may be asked to pay a commensurate fee. A price list can be found in the archive whose holdings you are perusing, as well as on its website.
Archival holdings can be viewed online (via the Search the Archives website) or directly (in person) in the reading rooms or specialized workshops of the State Archives. Simply tell a staff member which archival materials you would like to research and fill out the appropriate form.
Please note! The exact rules of researching archival materials may differ slightly between particular archives. Some State Archives may ask you to submit an online request and make a reading room reservation, for example.
State Archives also offer paid services:
- document copies, extracts, excerpts or other types of reproductions – without an official ‘certified true copy’ stamp,
- queries (hiring a staff member to search the archives for certain information or data).
In reading rooms, you may copy archival materials using your own devices, such as by taking photos or scanning. You can do so free of charge. We simply ask that you mute your device and avoid using additional lighting.
There are exceptions to the open access principle. Access to certain information may be restricted by applicable law. Some restrictions may also arise from the need to protect certain materials from being damaged, destroyed or lost.
In such cases, the head of a given State Archive may refuse to grant you access to the archival materials. In cases where the restriction arises from applicable law, you may be requested to present documents which confirm that you have a legitimate interest before you are granted access to the archival materials.
If the restriction arises from the need to protect personal data, access to such archival materials may require concluding an agreement prohibiting the further processing of personal data, or proving your legitimate interest (such as by proving kinship).
Acquiring official certifications
Upon request, the State Archives may officially certify the contents of archival materials in their possession in the form of:
- creating certified duplicates (copies, excerpts, extracts and reproductions) in the original language,
- secondary documents (certificates) containing a description of their content or parts specified by the requesting party.
In order to obtain an official certification, you must present proof of your legitimate interest. A legal interest arises if your request to obtain an official confirmation (certification) is based on a legal provision which will confer a right or render you exempt from an obligation.
You may also request an official certification if you are legally obliged to present it to a different government organ.
If these conditions are not met, your request for an official certification may be denied.
Unlike other public offices, the State Archives do not assess the content of such certified documents, and make no judgments as to their authenticity. An archive can only confirm that a given document is indeed in its possession.
Legal basis for using archival holdings
The availability of archival holdings and the issuing of official document certifications is governed by applicable law.
- The rules governing the availability of the archival holdings of the State Archives are specified in Art. 16, 16a-16e in relation to Art 22c of the Act on the National Archival Resource and State Archives of July 14, 1983.
- The rules governing the issuing of official certifications of the contents of archival materials are specified in Chapter VII of the Act of June 14, 1960 – the Code of Administrative Procedure.
- The procedure of making holdings available is specified in internal regulations issued by individual State Archives.