Inside AJHS: Searching Successfully

AJHS is fortunate to have a large and diverse collection of records available online.  New data is continuing to be added.

To ensure users can find the information they’re seeking most efficiently, this post demonstrates some recommendations for searching and browsing records.

When you go to you will see a prominent search box in the middle of the homepage, and in the top right corner of other pages.  This is a “universal search”, as it searches through all records. 

Universal Search

To be more specific, when you perform a universal search, the system tries to find every match for your search query through all the metadata fields of our available records – (as of 30 January 2024):

While it is powerful to be able to do one-stop shopping of over 100,000 records, you’re likely to return results that are not relevant to your search. This could very well frustrate you from finding what you’re looking for. 

We all know how it feels to be on your own in Bunnings, facing the daunting task of finding what you need amongst the never-ending aisles and bays.  Using the AJHS website should not be like this.

A useful alternative is to use one of the many advanced search options available for different record types. If you can provide more specific information it will limit the scope of your search.  This also gives you the option to search directly in specific metadata fields.

For example:

  • In Burial search, you can search directly for a Surname or Given Name. If your grandfather’s given name was Abraham, using universal search to search across all fields with “Abraham” will bring back many irrelevant results with the surname Abraham. 

The Burial search also allows you to search by death date, by year or a year range, by the specific cemetery or state, and by various other fields.

  • In Journal search you can search specifically for an article’s title or abstract. If you do a universal search for “Adelaide”, this will bring back every article that has the word “Adelaide” anywhere in the text.  However, limiting your search to the “Abstract” field will bring back a smaller group of records with the word “Adelaide” only in the abstract.

You can also search specifically for an article’s author, publication year, or other specific field data.

In addition to searching, some of our collections allow for browsing of records.  This can be very useful when you are not looking for a specific record but are curious about what you might discover in a collection. With this approach you can narrow down the range of options by applying filters. 

Take our Bunnings analogy:  sometimes you may know precisely what product you want. Other times, you may only have a vague idea of what you need, and you’re happy to take time to see what options are available on the shelves. This is when you will browse records.

For instance, when browsing military records, you start with all 6496 records, but then you can limit to records to only those with images.  Next, you can limit records to enlistments in NSW.  And finally, you can limit the set further to those of the Australian Army.­

It’s often useful to browse the Communal Archives, as users are often looking for records by a notable person or specific organisation. You can browse by Organisation, Personal Papers, or Small Individual Donations.

This post is the first of a series to share tips and tricks for navigating our extensive collection of records.  It is a quick overview, and we will cover more advanced searching techniques in the future.

While the universal search is quick and easy, and can give you a good overview of our diverse collection, we encourage you to start your journey by searching a specific record type.  While this may take a little more time, at the end of the day it’s more efficient in many cases.

For an optimised search experience we suggest you do the following:

  • Familiarise yourself with the AJHS’s different record types
  • Identify what you already know about your search target, and see if you can apply that to your search:
    • For example – If you’re looking for a burial in the 1910s in Queensland, you can go straight to Burials search and enter those specific search parameters.

Help us improve the search experience

We would like to understand how you are using the AJHS collections online, and if there are particular features you’re enjoying or areas that need improving. If you have suggestions or need help finding information, please contact us.

-Jeff Schneider, AJHS Web Developer and Collections Specialist