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Microfilm in the Notre Dame Archives

Scope and content of microfilm in the archives, with advice on how to use particularly challenging collections.

Propaganda Fide Microfilm

Our microfilm from the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide in the Vatican (157 reels) has an excellent finding aid, the guide prepared over many years by the Franciscan Academy. At first glance the red volumes of this guide look like the volumes of an encyclopedia. These volumes contain an archival finding aid known as a calendar. Each entry summarizes an individual document and provides information as to the location in the Propaganda's filing system.

To use the calendar with our microfilm one has to understand this filing system. We have a finding aid of our own that identifies the various series of documents in the system and correlates reels of the microfilm with the volume and item numbers in the calendar. So to use the finding aid you need to identify the appropriate reel of microfilm, pay attention to the volume and folio numbers provided in the calendar, correlate them with the targets on the film that indicate the start of a new volume, and then watch the folio numbers stamped or written on the recto of each folio. On reels that contain only folios belonging to a single volume one can easily find the pertinent document. But other reels contain several volumes, making it more difficult because of the need to discover the target identifying the volume before watching the ascending numbers identifying each folio.

Near the end of the nineteenth century, the Propaganda reformed its system so that all documents pertaining to the United States appear in a single series. For these documents you need to rely on our online finding aid rather than on the Franciscan calendar. But discovery of appropriate documents is relatively easy in this new series.

Mission Societies

The Vatican classified the United States as mission territory until the early twentieth century. Devout Catholics in Europe wanted to support the foreign missions.Several European countries had societies that responded to correspondence from missionaries and sent money to American missions. We have microfilm representing the records of mission societies in Austria, Germany, and France. When they appealed for support, bishops and priests in America described their work and their aspirations. Historians find in these records a rich source of evidence supporting their research.

Our microfilm from European mission societies reveals quirks that vary from one society to the next. Each society, of course, has its own filing system, and as usual anybody who does research needs to learn something about the filing systems. The card files that index these collections often identify nothing more specific than the reel where a given document appears. To hunt efficiently the researcher needs to see if the images on the film follow some order that the cards do not reveal. These cards have been converted into online finding aids and included in our search mechanisms. The order in the online finding aids generally corresponds better than the cards to the order on the film.

Society for the Propagation of the Faith

We have microfilm representing the Paris and Lyon-Fribourg councils of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (42 reels) and a finding aid that includes both of these councils.

The numbers in the finding aid for the Paris microfilm do not refer to reels. Reel one, for example, includes F1 and F2, which presumably used to be on two separate reels. The detailed finding aid for both councils, transcribed from index cards originally in alphabetical order according to correspondents names, has been sorted by reel number and date, so that the order in the finding aid should provide a better indication of the place of a document in its context on the reel.

The first five reels from the Lyon-Fribourg council contain minutes of meetings. Chronological correspondence begins on reel five and continues through reel fourteen. Reel fifteen, the final reel, contains miscellaneous correspondence regardless of date.

Leopoldine Society

Our microfilm for the Leopoldinen-Stiftung im Kaisertume Österreich (the Austrian Leopoldine Society - 19 reels) has a detailed finding aid that can be searched online. We have also produced a copy of this finding aid on paper with supplementary indexes. One can search for a particular document in this collection by checking a document seen on the film to determine its proximity to the document being sought and the direction in which to spool the film to find the desired document.


On the Ludwigs-Verein microfilm (7 reels) documents generally appear alphabetically by diocese, then chronologically within diocese or subheadings. Notations on reel one say "Alton first, then Baltimore. Cleveland is about 1/3 of the way into the reel. Boston after D. Little Rock last." Other reels may have similar quirks, but notes on the images supply clues as to the diocese.