How Do I Search?

Explore Archival Collections Demo Screenshot

At the SOVA homepage, enter your search term(s) into the search box (punctuation, case, and word order are ignored) and click on Search Button Screenshot or press the Enter key.

Narrow Your Results

Filter Navigation Screenshot

A list of related collections will appear. The menu on the left side of the screen allows you to fine tune your search. Select the appropriate facet(s) you want to limit your search by:

  • Only records with digital assets
  • Online Media
  • Topic
  • Type
  • Name
  • Culture
  • Place
  • Archival Repository

Search Results

Paging Results, Search by Relevancy Screenshot

In the center of the screen, you can see how many search results there are and navigate through pages quickly. Using the dropdown menu on the right side of the screen, you can also sort your results by either Relevancy or Title.

Grouping Tabs Screenshot

There are also tabs that display your results grouped in three ways:

  • Collections: Includes results grouped by collection.
  • All: Includes all results, from any part of a finding aid, all the way down to the item level.
  • Digital: Includes results filtered for digital content, such as sound recordings, slideshows, or other online media. Also provides a grid view and additional content filters for common media types.
Grouping Tabs Screenshot

The number of hits your query received is recorded in parentheses.

Search Again Screenshot

You can always do another search by selecting the SEARCH AGAIN button or typing in your query in the “Search SOVA” box.

Once you have selected a collection to view, click on the title to view more information about it.

Record View

At the top of the page you will see options to move between Search Results, view Collection Overviews or Contents, and view or download copies of the finding aid:

Search Again Screenshot

On the left are three options:

  • SEARCH RESULTS: returns your previous search results. You can also use the << or >> arrows to move to the Previous or Next search result.
  • OVERVIEW: provides basic details about the collection
  • CONTENTS: provides a detailed listing of the contents of the collection

On the right side, there are two display options:

  • PRINT PDF: allows you to view and download the entire finding aid as a PDF file
  • SHOW EAD: allows you to view and download the entire finding aid as an Encoded Archival Description XML file (EAD2002)

Record Overview

A record overview provides brief information about the collection as a whole. The overview will often include administrative, biographical, and summary information.

Record overviews also include a section of Keywords. You can click on Keyword entries to find other related content from other collections and Smithsonian archival repositories.

For each Keyword, you can also click to search our Smithsonian-wide Collections Search, which includes museum objects and other material. Links are also provided to external sites like OCLC’s ArchiveGrid, to help you find content at other institutions, beyond the Smithsonian.

Record Contents

On the left side, a table of contents allows you to navigate to various parts of the finding aid quickly.

Browse through a collection’s contents by clicking on the series, file or item Titles.

Digital Content

Many archival collections include digital content.

Collections with one or more digital assets will have a large blue ‘Digital Content’ icon in the title:

Search Again Screenshot

The blue box icon indicates that the collection contains digital assets that can be viewed online. Clicking on this icon will take you to the first digital asset in this collection.

Individual folders or items that have been digitized will also be marked with the same blue box icon under the Contents tab. You can view these digitized materials by clicking the folder or item title.


  • Looking for collections with photographs of pianos specifically at the Archives Center, National Museum of American History:
    1. Use: "pianos" as your search term,
    2. Check the "Only Records with Digital Assets" box,
    3. Narrow by Type, select "photographs" in the left column,
    4. Narrow by Archival Repository, select "Archives Center, National Museum of American History".
  • Looking for images of Florida that are available for viewing online:
    1. Use: "Florida" as your search term,
    2. Select "Digital" to see records that have digital content.
  • Looking for finding aids about Duke Ellington:
    1. Search for Duke Ellington,
    2. Results in the "Collections" tab include finding aids where Duke AND Ellington appears anywhere within the collection description.
      You can narrow these results further:
      • Check the box "Only records with digital assets"
      • Quote your search terms
      • Results assume "AND". You can use OR to include Ruth OR Duke
      • Browse the All tab to view results where Duke AND Ruth appear together on the same item description.