CRS Manual - Person definition and depth of description


A Commonwealth person is a person who created or accumulated records during their association with the Commonwealth but whose records were not maintained in the recordkeeping systems of the associated agencies. Usually a person will not be registered unless they have transferred personal records to the custody of the National Archives of Australia or the Australian War Memorial, or have received approval to do so. A personal records collection and individual series within it may contain both Commonwealth and private records - see the Personal Records Manual for further information.

Within the CRS System, the person registration performs a role similar to the agency registration. The person registration provides a very brief biography of that individual, but the major aim is to provide a context for the person's records. The person registration should allow staff and users to establish any relationships between series of 'personal' records (recorded by Commonwealth persons) and 'official' records (recorded by Commonwealth agencies) with which the person had an association.

The person registration provides a means of assembling information from a variety of sources so that it can be presented in a concise format to users. This is particularly useful when the person was not publicly prominent or widely known. If information about the person is readily available in published sources, only a brief outline of the person's career should be included.

Registration policy

A person should only be registered if he or she recorded (created) personal records which are being or have been transferred to the Archives.

Do not register a person if he or she only controls or transfers personal records that have been created by someone else. Such persons are not normally eligible for registration under the Archives' Personal Records Service arrangements. See the Personal Records Manual for additional information.

Depth of description

Attributes in person registrations

Each person registration has several attributes. Use discretion in choosing the attributes and amount of information which is appropriate for the person being described. Information does not need to be included in every attribute. However, some are mandatory to establish a registration.

The attributes have been categorised according to the role they play in the registration and description process. Four broad categories of relative importance have been established:

Category 1 Must be present for all registrations
Category 2 Must be present where applicable, to provide essential context or facilitate management
Category 3 Should be completed where applicable, to provide additional context
Category 4 Should be completed for significant registrations; may be completed in other cases

Attributes of person registrations are listed below.

Identification and descriptive elements Relative importance
Surname, given names & pre/post-nominals1
Alternative name3
Date of birth/death1
Descriptive note4
Registration standard2
Related agencies 4
Unregistered links note4
Control and management elements
Visibility/availability indicator2
Archivist note2
Date registered1
Date modified 1
User ID modified by1
Provisional registrations

It is possible to add a provisional person registration to RecordSearch. This provides an opportunity to register and describe a person despite some uncertainty regarding specific aspects of the description.

Assign provisional registration status only when there are doubts about the accuracy of the information in the registration. Use the Person Descriptive Note for provisional registrations to explain the problems associated with the data. Provisional person registrations should be made in very few situations.

The status of provisional registrations should be reviewed (and updated where possible) six to twelve months after their initial registration, resources permitting.

Expression of dates

The registration and description procedures require dates to be entered in certain fields. Some of these fields are formatted in a predetermined way to facilitate searching, sorting, validation, and consistency in reports. The standard date format is DD Mon YYYY, eg 01 Jan 1954.

Dates occurring in text fields are not subject to validation. However, for overall consistency, follow the standard for formatted date fields. In Unregistered Links fields, follow the format:

YYYY-YYYY: [title]
1954-1962: South Australia, Department of Harbours

In the Person Descriptive Note and similar 'prose' areas, give the names of months in full, and cite dates as shown in the National Archives of Australia Style Guide.

As a general rule, it is best to give the precise day only if it is known or readily obtainable. Otherwise, aim to identify the date range of a relationship with accuracy to no more than month and year. Permitted date qualifiers are c (circa) and by. Use a date qualifier only if the year is in doubt.

If exact start and end dates are not easily identified, observe the following conventions:


A person registration functions as part of a publicly available finding aid. It must not contain subjective assessments of the individual's historical importance, or partisan comments on actions and policies. It should consist of statements of fact, with particular emphasis on the person's association with Commonwealth agencies and records.

A person registration should be as objective as possible, providing facts, not interpretation. For this reason, information provided by a depositor about their own career should be closely examined and not necessarily included verbatim in the registration.

Administrative information for internal management purposes about a depositor that is not of value to the general public should be recorded in an Archivist Note, rather than the Person Descriptive Note.

Responsibilities for registration

In general, staff responsible for the Personal Records Service identify the need for and initiate person registrations. They are also responsible for updating and revising person registrations and associated personal records series registrations.

There is no formal system of delegation. However, the most senior Personal Records Service representative in each office should nominate those who will undertake registration activities such as research, quality control, data entry and retrieval.

Update privileges to the database are more restricted. Only those staff who have a good understanding of control and description procedures and have been trained in database input procedures should be recommended for update rights. See the RecordSearch help text for further information on data entry procedures.

Preparing for registration

Preparing a person registration involves two major steps:

1. Check to see that the person is not already registered

It is essential to make a thorough check of RecordSearch to see whether the person has already been registered.

2. Assemble information

While information does not need to be included for every attribute, information must be entered in the mandatory attributes. Tailor the description to reflect the relative importance of the person, but be mindful of the potential use (sometimes 20 or 30 years later) of the person registration as a finding aid.
Quality control and monitoring arrangements

If you are preparing or revising registrations you are primarily responsible for ensuring that each registration is accurate, well presented, and has an appropriate level of information in accordance with the Archives' procedures. A simple step is to have someone else proofread or check the registration. Quality control and monitoring of registration and description is also undertaken by local supervisors and staff responsible for quality control nationally. Under no circumstances should registrations in draft form be added to the publicly available database.

Other sources of information