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The Red and Black Series

By Sean Darcy


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Record-keeping Adopted Following the Red and Black Series: 1923-1950s

The Red and Black Series Subject Extension System was the foundation for the duplex numeric system introduced in 1923. The department, recognizing that a more flexible filing system was necessary in order to organize and retrieve the large number of records within headquarters, abandoned the straight numeric filing system in favour of a subject-based, duplex numeric central registry filing system.

However, instead of creating one central registry series, teh Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) created five new independent, subject-based file systems, which it used from 1923 until 1949, when the department abandoned this system in favour of a single 'modified duplex numeric' central registry system. The five central registry subject series were: 'First Series'; 'Thousand Series'; 'School File Series'; 'Land Sale Series'; and 'Engineering and Construction Files.'

Until 1923, the Red and Black Series agency responsibility codes existed as independent entities. The Red Series had agency responsibility codes running from 1 to 100 and the Black Series had responsibility codes ranging from 1 to 66. When the department adopted the duplex numeric file classification system, it kept the Red Series agency responsibility codes and started the agency codes for the Black Series at 102. Thus the Assiniboine Agency (Old No. 2) became agency responsibility code No. 102.

The department continued to use the 'Registers' and 'Subject Extension Registers' despite the fact that the duplex numeric system allowed one to identify both subject and agency in the one number. Furthermore, the department still perpetuated the East-West split of the former Red and Black series, keeping "a set of lose leaf registers... for Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, and another set for Manitoba and the Western Provinces." (10)

Although a substantial number of records from the Red and Black Series were migrated into its successor, the 'Duplex Numeric Series,' the department still created Red and Black Series records as late as the mid-1950s, well after DIA had adopted its subject-based file classification systems. This continuation of the Red and Black system was referred to as the 'High Red' (east of Manitoba) and 'High Black' (west of Ontario) series and ran from file numbers 600,000 to 600,582. The series consists of only 582 pieces of correspondence generated between August 31, 1923 and April 4, 1947, after a large portion of the records were migrated into the 'First Series.' (11) There are also instances, contrary to general record-keeping practice, where correspondence was placed on earlier Black or Red series files.

No standard filing system was employed by DIA staff in the field offices prior to 1950. As a result, valuable records were lost through poor records management practices. Moreover, it was almost impossible to determine what records had been created or lost since no registration system existed in the agencies.

For a more in-depth discussion of the history of the Department of Indian Affairs' central registry record-keeping systems (up to 1984), read Sean Darcy's full article in Archivaria, no. 58 (Fall 2004), p. 161-171.

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