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Understanding Common Record Types: Minutes

Guide to understanding common types of archive documents: abstracts of title, accounts, annual reports, charters & letters patent, constitutions, diaries, household books, land deeds, letters, manorial records, maps & plans, minutes, photographs, & wills.

“How many twenty-second-century bureaucrats did it take to change a light panel? We'll have a sub-committee meeting and get back to you with an estimate”

Peter F. Hamilton, Great North Road 

Introduction to minutes

Governance documents containing details of meetings of organisations.

Why they were created

Created to record business discussed and decisions taken at meetings held by various types of organisations.

Who might have created them

Usually created by a secretary appointed by the board, council, committee or working group that held the meeting, who would have been present at the meeting to make the record.

Where you might find them

Usually found as a sequence on their own, or within the working files of executive personnel. Commonly found in the following collections:

  • Businesses
  • Charities
  • Trusts
  • Societies
  • Political parties
  • Campaign groups
  • Education establishments
  • Parish councils
  • Town and City councils, and their predecessor local authority organisations

Period from which they most commonly survive

Survive in large quantities from the early 19th century, although, examples exist from the medieval period.

Key features

Physical features

  • Early examples feature manuscript entries made into pre-bound volumes of paper, usually hardbound
  • From late-19th century, it is common to find typescript minutes printed on paper and stuck or bound into volumes
  • From late-19th century, it is also common to find files of unbound typescript printed minutes
  • From late-20th century, start to find digital formats, usually created in Word and saved as a Word document or PDF

Informational content

  • Date of meeting
  • Place of meeting
  • List of attendees
  • List of absences
  • Acceptance or alterations to previous meeting's minutes
  • Business discussed, which varies widely according to the nature and purpose of the organisation holding the meeting
  • Decisions made
  • Actions taken
  • Financial position
  • Appointment of members, staff and executive officers
  • Updates from officials present
  • Proposals for date of next meeting
  • Signature of chairman of the meeting to indicate minutes are accepted and official (if no signature is present the minutes are usually draft or copy versions)


First page of the minutes of the first meeting of the Directors of John Good & Sons Shipping Ltd., 10 Jan 1908

Typescript minutes of the first meeting of the organising board, noting members of the board and resolutions agreed

U REG/2/1

Minutes of the first meeting of the University College of Hull Organising Board, 23 Jul 1925

U DJU/10/1

Extract from the minutes of the first meeting of the British Section of the International Commission of Jurists, 27 Mar 1957

Typescript minutes of a meeting of the Commonwealth Committee of Justice noting the names of present members, apologies for absence, agreement of last meeting's minutes, and matters arising for discussion

U DJU/5/3

Minutes of a meeting of the Commonwealth Committee of the organisation, Justice, held 29 Apr 1968

Note on critical analysis

Things to consider:

  • Minutes record an agreed position on discussions that took place and decisions that were made
  • Some details may be omitted if discussions wandered from the key meeting points
  • Some details may be redacted for reasons of sensitivity prior to the minutes being circulated more widely
  • Signed minutes are written up after a meeting has taken place, and are reconstructed from rough notes made during meetings, usually by a secretary or designated minute-taker
  • Depending on who was present, who was invited but could not attend so was updated after the event, and who was only provided with signed minutes, different contemporary groups may have different perspectives on a given issue depending on the level of access to information they were given, and the time that access was given

Potential research uses

Minutes can be useful when undertaking research into the following areas:

  • Historical organisational discourse
  • Identification of individuals involved with a particular organisation or activity
  • History of a particular organisation
  • Comparison of approaches of similar types of organisations
  • Development of ideas and approaches in a given area of activity, i.e. marketing, fundraising, etc.
  • History of a particular movement through the activities of the organisations involved, i.e. peace, anti-fascism, etc.

Specialist skills and knowledge

Further reading in the following areas will help researchers when using these sources:

  • Understanding of Secretary writing or mixed Secretary/Italic writing, if using pre-19th century minutes
  • Knowledge of pre-decimal currency, if using pre-20th century minutes

Resources at Hull History Centre

Search for further examples of minutes using our online catalogue. Try using search terms such as minutes, proceedings, meetings, etc. You could also try searching these terms in conjunction with specific organisations in which you are interested to narrow your search.

Alternatively, if you prefer to browse, the file below contains a list of minutes held at Hull History Centre. Please note that this list is not comprehensive, but represents key examples of the document type.

Further help

The following secondary literature provides an example of how minutes have been used in research, as well as examining more conceptual ideas around the purpose of meetings, during which minutes are created: