An accession comprises the transfer of documents from a file-producing person or institution to a particular sub-fonds.

Archive tectonics

Describes the hierarchical structure of an archive's holdings. The Swiss Federal Archives contain various description levels: Main Departments (top level), fonds, sub-fonds, series, dossiers and documents (lowest level). The archive plan search in Swiss Archives displays the archive tectonics in a hierarchical tree structure.

Classification system

The order used by a file-producing body (e.g. a federal department) to file its documents. New classification systems are routinely created whenever a department is undergoing major organizational or substantive changes. The individual positions ("chapters") of a given classification system are visible via Swiss Archives at the series level, which can be browsed within the tree structure of the archive plan search.

Closure period

The period in which a dossier is not freely accessible. A given period is a function of the year in which the dossier in question was completed.

Description levels

The Federal Archives comprise several hierarchical description levels. The Main Department constitutes the top level, within which there are the fonds and sub-fonds levels. . The individual positions within the classification system of a sub-fonds are visible at the series level, below which are the dossier and, in some cases, document levels. The archive plan search in Swiss Archives displays the various description levels in a hierarchical tree structure.


All information of relevance to a given business process, regardless of information medium, arising from the Federal Government's public duties.


A dossier contains documents pertaining to a particular business process. 

File reference

Numerical or alphanumerical reference for the unambiguous identification of a dossier or document. It contains the position number of the classification system, but may also comprise additional elements.

Filing system

see Classification system

Finding aids

Finding aids are directories, lists, indices, registers, computer files and other research tools that list or describe archival holdings and thus afford access to them.

Both Swiss Archives and the thematic fonds overview for Main Department E are available online.

Swiss Archives allows users to conduct full-text searches and field searches e.g. by title down to dossier level, provided the data are available online. Additionally, the archive plan search (tree structure) offers a hierarchical overview of all Main Departments.

For legal reasons, dossiers that

- are described using a person's name and
- contain sensitive personal data or personal profiles and
- are still within the statutory closure period

may not be displayed in Swiss Archives. 

Swiss Archives contains almost all data. New submissions are continuously incorporated into the database. For all dossier metadata which are not (or not yet) searchable online, an internally accessible archives database is available in the reading rooms. 

Fonds and sub-fonds

The holdings of Main Department E comprise both pertinence and provenance fonds.

  • Pertinence fonds are thematically organized, contain documents from the 19th and the first third of the 20th century, and have two-digit reference numbers from E1 to E99. There is no sub-fonds level for pertinence fonds. The series level comes directly below the fonds level.
  • provenance fonds comprises all documents of a file-producing person or institution, for instance a federal office. Provenance fonds have five-digit reference numbers starting with E10001. They appear in alphabetical order in the tree structure of the archive plan search. Provenance fonds may consist of several sub-fonds.

A sub-fonds is the summary of all documents of a file-producing body that have been generated in accordance with a particular classification system. Sub-fonds of Main Department E have a four-digit reference number beginning with E1000, frequently enhanced with additional elements such as E1004.2, E1004-02, E2001B etc.

Fonds overview

The Swiss Federal Archives offers a complete overview of the fonds and sub-fonds of the Swiss Federal Archives. The archive plan search permits users to browse among alphabetically ordered fonds in tree view. There is an additional thematic overview for Main Department E (Federal State since 1848) under the Info Corner.


see Finding aids

Main Departments

Documents in the Federal Archives are arranged in eight Main Departments. Departments B to E contain documents dated 1798 and later concerning the Helvetic Republic (B), Mediation (C), Tagsatzung (D) and Federal State since 1848 (E). The historical Main Departments B to D are complete, while Main Department E Federal State continues to grow.

Main department J contains private archives of legal entities and natural persons.

A systematic overview of all fonds in Main Department E Federal State since 1848 is available at fonds overview.

Pertinence fonds

see Fonds/sub-fonds

Private archives

Private archives consist of documents held by an archive on deposit, as an estate, or as a gift, or acquired by purchase.Private archives are stored in the Swiss Federal Archives in Main Department J under J1 (Private archives of natural persons) and J2 (Private archives of legal entities).

Provenance fonds

see Fonds/sub-fonds

Reference number

A dossier's reference code (e.g. E4001D#1972/9#280*) within Swiss Archives comprises the following elements:

Main Department E
Sub-fonds 4001D
Accession 1972/9
Dossier reference number 280


The series description level denotes a certain position within a classification system and allows searches for such positions.

Swiss Archives

see Finding aids


see Fonds and sub-fonds


Swiss Federal Archives

Archivstrasse 24
3003 Bern

+41 58 462 89 89


Opening hours reading room

Tu-Th, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Details and closing times

Print contact


Swiss Federal Archives

Archivstrasse 24
3003 Bern

Show map

Print contact