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Understanding SIRIS Understanding Records Understanding Collection Titles and Numbers Going Beyond SIRIS
Frequently Accessed Collections


The Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) is the primary research tool to find collections at the Smithsonian Institution. SIRIS includes combined information from several archives, libraries, and other research resources. If you want to restrict your search to data in the NAA and the HSFA, choose the  ARCHIVES, MANUSCRIPTS & PHOTOGRAPHIC COLLECTIONS. (Links on this site are set to that restriction.)

SEARCH TIP: Select the COMBINED tab at the top to restrict your search to a particular repository.

Search results appear in an abbreviated form showing only a few fields of information.  To see the full record, click on View Catalog Record.


The information in SIRIS records for archival materials varies according to the level of description:

Collection-level records describe the entire collection generally - its names, dates, creators, size and major components.
Series-level records provide a little more detail and often relate back to the collection. Recently created records provide a link from the Item or Series record to the broader Collection record, but older ones may not.
Item-level records describe single pieces, such as individual maps, photographs, film and video titles, or sound recordings. Many item level records also describe material included in the NAA numbered manuscript/BAE collections.

Important Fields

Each catalog record in SIRIS is composed of fields that provide additional information on a collection or item.

Cite As: this field tells you where material is located and how to refer to it.  Since SIRIS includes several archives, it is important to verify which Smithsonian unit holds the material. Anthropology records all say National Anthropological Archives or Human Studies Film Archives. The unique identifying name or number that the archives has assigned to the material is also an essential part of reference. You can use the information from this field to properly cite material.

Organization: this field tells you the basic arrangement of materials within large collections. It can also indicate whether the record is for a collection, series, or item.

Digital Reference: this field contains images, sound clips, and finding aids. Finding Aids are the major source of information for larger collections, which are not cataloged at the item level. You will need to consult a finding aid to identify box numbers to help locate material in collections. Most finding aids are attached to collection records; a full list is available online.

SEARCH TIP: To find only records containing digital images, add “jpg” to a keyword search.


Several numbering systems have been used over the long history of the archives. Early collections were given manuscript numbers (e.g. MS4490); more recent collections are designated by name (e.g. Ralph Beals Papers).

Glass plate negatives were assigned identifying numbers, such as GN 4960, with the prefix BAE sometimes added. Prints made from the negatives often were given the same number, which thus refers to an image rather than a single negative or print.

Inventory control numbers were assigned to many individual items when the electronic database was created in the 1970s and 1980s, establishing control over the physical collection. These 8-digit numbers may be prefixed with INV.

Paper items transferred to the NAA from the object collection (mostly artwork and photographs) usually kept their original catalog numbers (ranging from 4 to 6 digits long). These are often now prefixed with MS. Original documentation for these items is still in the records of the Collections section.

Groups of photographs are often in numbered Photo Lots. The early numbers run sequentially, but later numbers consist of a sequential series within each year (i.e. 76-20, for the 20th lot in 1976).
Search Tip: To find only records pertaining to Photo Lots, use “photo lot” to a keyword search.

SEARCH TIP: When searching for a particular photograph or manuscript, make sure to include the letter prefix in addition to the photograph or manuscript number. For example: When searching for manuscript 1972, type NAA MS 1972 in the keyword search box.


The online database is an entry point to the archival  collections. Use the information you find and contact the archivist to learn more about the collection and see if there are other sources of information. Researchers are encouraged to visit the archives and view the collections. Appointments can be made online here.

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Numbered Manuscripts:

2236_1_02.jpgThe Bureau of American Ethnology established an archive to preserve research materials created or acquired by its many scientists.  Assembled between 1879 and 1965, the Numbered Manuscript Collection is an unparalleled source of early material on the cultures of Native Americans. When it was transferred to the Department of Anthropology, it became the core of the new National Anthropological Archives. It is particularly rich in language material and also includes extensive field notes, photographs, maps, and artwork assembled by professional anthropologists, private donors, military personnel, and missionaries. There are many small manuscripts cataloged at the item level, allowing for fine grained searches. To find the papers of a given individual, such as John Swanton or James Mooney, search by the person’s name to find the many numbered manuscript items and photographs that may be of interest.

The Photographs of American Indians and Other Subjects 1840s-1960s collected by the Bureau of American Ethnology [Source Print Collection: Photo Lot 24]:

00857700Photographs of American Indians and Other Subjects 1840s-1960s is one of the largest photo collections in the National Anthropological Archives.  It was assembled by the Bureau of American Ethnology and many of the photographs relate to or derive from the Numbered Manuscript Collection. It includes prints made from the massive BAE glass negative collection as well as images from the early Western surveys of Hayden and Powell. Popularly known as the Source Print Collection, the collection is organized geographically and then by tribe. A majority of the collection is cataloged at the item level and many images are available to view online.

Library of Congress Collection of American Indian Photographs 1860s-1930s 1890s-1920s [Photo Lot 59]:

0325200This collection contains about 6,000 original prints deposited in the Library of Congress by photographers seeking copyright registration. Photographers include such luminaries as Edward Curtis, Roland Reed, John Anderson, and Charles Lummis. Most of the images in this collection are available to view online.

George V. Allen Photographic Collection 1860s-1930s [Photo Lot 90-1]:

09984800George V. Allen collection, assembled between the 1950s and the 1980s is a rich source of images of American Indians and the Western frontier. It includes many
portraits of well-known figures such as American Horse, Big Bow, Four Bears, Iron Bull, Ouray, Red Cloud, Red Dog, Red Shirt, Sitting Bull, Spotted Tail, Three Bears, and Two Guns White Calf. Scenes from outside the studio show dwellings, camps and towns, scenes of hunting and fishing, wild west shows, and food preparation. Photographs of delegations to Washington include Kiowas and Cheyennes at the White House in 1863 and Dakotas and Crows who visited President Warren G. Harding in 1921.

Photograph collection ca. 1860s-1960s by the United States National Museum Department of Ethnology [Photo Lot 97]:

04437200This collection was assembled by the Ethnology Division as an adjunct to its object collection. It contains many photographs received together with associated artifacts. Coverage is worldwide outside North America and contains portraits, activities, and scenes. (Photographs of American Indians are now interfiled with BAE photographs.) The collection is cataloged at item level and some images are available online.

Video Dialogues in Anthropology Series:

HSFA Vanuatu man with cameraThis collection contains a series of video oral histories and interviews with important figures in the history of anthropology such as Ruth Bunzel, Frederica de Laguna, William Fenton, Murray Wax and many others. Videos were produced by the University of Florida’s Department of Anthropology in conjunction with the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

The John Marshall Ju'/hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection, 1950-2000:

Samko Considered one of the seminal visual anthropology projects of the 20th century, this collection provides a unique example of sustained audiovisual documentation of one cultural group, the Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari Desert in northeastern Namibia, spanning half a century. It is an unparalleled historical record not only of an indigenous people’s traditional way of life and ties to the land but of the transformation of their life in the rapidly changing political and economic landscape that developed in concert with the struggle for Namibian independence.

The Marshall collection contains 767 hours of unedited film and video footage, edited films and videos, audio tapes, still photographs, maps, and film production files spanning from 1950 to 2000.  Further information is available in the finding aid and web exhibition. The John Marshall Ju/'hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection is inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World register.

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