Getting Started

For women’s and men’s religious communities, orders and societies who know that preserving their history and legacy is an important part of their work, but who may be struggling with where to start or how to improve their archival initiatives, ARCC suggests the following three avenues. They may be employed individually or in combination.

Visit an Archive

Image courtesy of Claretian Missionaries Archives – Joseph Gamm on mission, Sacred Heart Church, Sweetwater, Texas, 1946-1947.

One of the best ways to understand how an archives works is to tour one with a trained archivist as your guide. Your visit should include:

  • A look at how the archive physically stores and preserves the records in its care 
  • Discussion about the archives broad areas of responsibility including 
    • what records it collects, 
    • how it makes decisions about what to keep and what to discard, 
    • how it decides what materials to make available to researchers, 
    • how is it providing access, either in person or online, to its collections 
    • what kinds of research questions or projects have utilized the records and
    • what benefits and services has the archives provided to its parent community, order, society or diocese and to the community at large

Archivists are more than happy to talk about their work to anyone interested in learning more. You will definitely walk away with not only a better understanding of how archives work, but also with ideas to build on in your community.


An important aspect of archival work is understanding the administration and ministries of your community, order, society or diocese throughout its history. Gathering this big picture information provides a framework in which archivists and leadership decide what records to preserve. It also assists scholars in placing people and events in an appropriate historical context. 

This type of self-evaluation of a community’s history and documents may seem daunting. To help, ARCC offers this checklist as a tool for communities either beginning to gather their vital records or those looking to reevaluate some of their current holdings.

It will not only help you identify specific records that should be preserved in your archives, it will also help walk you through compiling of list of your ministries and administrative activities that should be documented.

Click here to view and download the checklist.

Image courtesy of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden Archives – Sisters Catherine Davenport and Mary Mark Mullen survey the damage by Japanese bombers to their convent in Chihkiang, Hunan, China, 1940.

Archival Consultants

Image courtesy of the Archives of the Sisters of St. Dominic, Caldwell, New Jersey – Sister Catherine Waters counseling a College Student at Caldwell.

Often, a religious institute has neither the personnel, time nor in-house expertise to establish an archive or actively manage their historical records. In many cases, communities coming to completion need immediate assistance with securing their documentary legacy. In such cases, hiring a qualified archival consultant may be the best course of action. Archival consultants will evaluate the current state of the community’s records and gather information about the community’s intention for its history moving forward. He or she will then recommend an action plan in line with the community’s desired outcome. If hiring an archival consultant is the appropriate next step for your community, order or society, this document will help get you started.

Click here to view and download the ARCC Archival Consultant Guidelines.