Manuscripts and Special Collections

Searching the catalogues

In recent years some of the most significant family and estate collections held at the University of Nottingham have been the subject of externally-funded cataloguing projects.

The University is extremely grateful for contributions from bodies such as JISC, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the British Library which have enabled the creation of detailed, item-level descriptions, complete with extensive indexing, for papers in the Denison, Newcastle and Portland Collections, and parts of the Middleton Collection. The Thoroton Hildyard Collection and the Chaworth-Musters Collection have also been described and indexed at item level.

These descriptions are now fully accessible online, via the Manuscripts Online Catalogue.  Most of the family and estate collections which have not been the subject of special projects are also described at item or bundle level on the Manuscripts Online Catalogue, but without the detailed indexes.

Item descriptions can be retrieved by searching for the collection's reference number. For instance, in the Search Catalogues form in the Manuscripts Online Catalogue, type 'De' into the 'Document Ref' field to retrieve all records from the Denison collection.

Alternatively, the whole scope of the collection can be browsed. Click the 'View collection tree' link in the collection-level description. Wherever you see 'View Record', click on it to reveal more information. Alternatively, use the search strategies listed in the next section below to retrieve results from across a number of catalogues.  


Search Strategies

From the opening search screen of the Manuscripts Online Catalogue , click on 'Search the main catalogue - Catalogue records'. You can conduct a free text search across multiple fields by typing a keyword into the 'AnyText' box.

Users should note the following:

  • A record will only be returned if it contains the exact search term - any differences in spelling, etc, will mean that some documents may not be retrieved.
  • When using a commonly used term, users may find themselves faced with numerous false hits. For example, if you wished to retrieve documents by or about the Earl of Lincoln, and used ‘Lincoln’ as a search term, you would also retrieve every document relating to the place called Lincoln.

If you find you are retrieving a number of false hits, you can narrow your search down by using the other search options. For instance, type your required search term into the 'AnyText' box, and also type 'De' into the 'DocumentRef' box. This will ensure that only results from the Denison archive are retrieved.

Searches can also be narrowed down by date. Type your required search term into 'AnyText', and also type the exact year, or a range of years, into the 'Date' field. You can even combine this with a 'DocumentRef' search to target the search still further.

Remember to try alternative spellings if there are no initial results. 


Name indexes (selected collections only)

By selecting 'Search the main catalogue - Indexing - person/corporate name' in the opening search screen of the Manuscripts Online Catalogue, you will be able to access individual name authority terms. When you view a name authority record, you can choose to see all manuscript catalogue records in which that name index appears.


Place indexes (selected collections only)

By selecting 'Search the main catalogue - Indexing - place' in the opening search screen of the Manuscripts Online Catalogue, you can search all of the place name authorities included within the system. Therefore, if you wish to know more about events in a particular place, you could access information by entering the place name in the 'CityTownVillage' field. This will retrieve the name authority term for that place, and will enable you to link to every catalogue record containing information about the place. 


Suggested searches using subject terms (selected collections only)

Free text searching cannot provide access to concepts - that is, terms or ideas which are not mentioned explicitly in the description. For example, a letter in one of the collections may be all about urban development in a particular area, but may not mention the term specifically. The Newcastle, Denison and most of the Portland papers have been catalogued using subject terms including the following:


agricultural improvement




building works


business and commerce






civil disorder

clerical livings

clothing and dress

clubs and societies


Crown estates

Crown grants

Crown rights



domestic affairs






estate business

estate holdings


family relationships

financial affairs

game and game birds



harbours and ports




legal business

legal cases

local affairs

local government

manorial business


maps and plans



mining and extraction

occupations and professions



Poor Law


public houses


rural development

salaries and wages


social conditions

social occasions






urban development





The terms specified are simply a selection, and relate predominantly to general estate matters. If a term does not appear in the list, this does not mean there it will not appear in the online catalogue.

Landed family and estate collections may also contain significant amounts of personal papers which may relate to subjects such as colonial affairs, courts, current affairs, diplomacy, ecclesiastical affairs, economic affairs, education, elections, foreign affairs, government business, parliamentary business, politics and religious affairs - to name but a few! 


Next page:  Further reading


Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 8651