Top tips for searching archives
- It can be difficult to find references to LGBT issues in archives because the words used to describe identities and behaviours have changed over time. It may also be because archivists write summaries rather than describing individual items in detail.
- Archives about large proportions of the population (such as newspapers, courts, hospitals, etc.) will include references to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The trick is to decipher them!
- Use a range of different terms. Remember that something with an indirectly related title may contain references and information. Some terms that are common now, such as 'gay' and 'queer' have different meanings over time which can affect search results.
- Useful key words to search for include: gay, gays, queer, queers, lesbian, lesbianism, lesbians, homosexual, homosexuals, sexual minorities, sexuality, sexual orientation, transvestism, transvestites, bisexual, transsexual, transgender.
- Sometimes terms used to criminalise or stigmatise the LGBT community can be useful in searches, including: drag, buggery, sodomy, indecent, immoral, gross indecency, procurement, soliciting, immorality, unmentionable.
- Subject indexes are even more problematic because the major thesauri tend to use the terms "gender minorities" and "sexual behaviour". Using these subject index terms may uncover additional materials. Unfortunately, according to the Unesco Thesauri the concept of "lesbian" does not exist.
For further advice, including a useful glossary, suggested search terms and legislation timeline see Gay and Lesbian History at The National Archives: An Introduction.