Archives work with a large amount of varying material, and when you talk with historians, most of them look forward to trips to the archives. Working with old materials is a great adventure that you can easily fall in love with.
In regard to the way that individual archives are structured and the fact that they’re spread across the country with rather limited access to individual funds, we’re not going to give you advice here on which one to go to. But, it’s definitely worth at least looking into some of their digital services. They’re not always user-friendly, but they surely offer a lot of interesting information.
That’s why we want to take you on a tour of some of the most interesting services that are available in this area. Contrary to museums and galleries, however, we’ll be focusing primarily on Czech archives with an emphasis on interest in your own personal stories. There’s almost nothing more interesting than going on a search that’s linked to your family or friends.
If you have Romas, Sinti or Jews in your family, you’ll certainly find the Holocaust project useful. Here you can look for information on the victims of concentration camps among these ethnicities. Aside from information on deaths, you can see what their personal papers, photographs and other documents looked like. In terms of graphic design, it’s one of the best Czech archives out there.
The eBadatelna – Security Services Archive E-reading Room is a project that you have to register for using your national ID card. In return, you’ll get online access to information on how the StB (Czech Secret Police) and other security services functioned. This is an excellent source of information if you have an idea of what you’re looking for. It is not, however, a very user-friendly tool for “blind” browsing. This same office is also behind the StB collaborators search tool or the project for mapping persons killed while attempting to cross Czechoslovakia’s borders.
The Memory of Nations is based on oral history, i.e. the testimonies of personal observers, which is an extremely useful and interesting resource that’s interesting to work with. It shows heroes and victims, but also daily life in various periods of Czech history, from the First World War up to the present. This is one of the best and richest non-written Czech sources of modern history. If, for example, you’re interested in how Action K happened or the terror in the period of normalization, you’re definitely in the right place.
It can also be very interesting to search for relatives in registry offices or create your family tree. In South Moravia, you’ll definitely find that the scanned registries in the Acta publica are interesting. Other handy resources are services like FamilySearch or MyHeritage, which can easily expand your family tree if one of your relatives has already done some work there. Links to other registry offices can also be found on servers like Generalogie. You can also use the Registries of Jewish Religious Communities from 1784 to 1949.
Very interesting things can be found in the Czech National Archive – here you can go through the trial of Rudolf Slánský, including video, audio and other materials. You can also look forward to many hours of interesting resources that show what political trials looked like. If you’re a fan of older history, you’ll be pleased to find the Provincial Records from 1541 to 1861. Nice (and even older) documents can be found in the Virtual archive of Central Europe – Monasterium. More Czech archives are available via the Badatelna.eu project.
An English list of projects on oral history or a large project on oral history on socially interesting topics can be useful (Cold War, Climate Change, Decolonisation, Democracy,...). You can also use the list of online archives. In general, however, local archives where the researcher lives, or specialized projects, depending on his focus, are of great importance.
And, if you want to see what archives look like abroad, it’s definitely worth visiting the one linked to the American Congress, which has prepared beautiful digital collections, or a less extensive archive like the user-friendly Archive in Norway.