The Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System

The Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System lets the National Archives keep track of Commonwealth Government agencies, the series of records they produce and the individual items in those series.

The four main elements of the CRS System are:

These elements are registered and described in RecordSearch, our main online database. They help put each record in context and can help you find more records that might be relevant to your research.

The four main elements of the CRS system are described below.


An organisation is a whole government, learned society, church or company that is independent or broadly autonomous.

The National Archives registers organisations with a CO (Commonwealth Organisation) number, such as:

  • CO 1, Commonwealth of Australia, 1901–ongoing
  • CO 116, Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Limited, 1990–ongoing

Knowledge of the 'parent' organisation provides you with the broad administrative context in which records are created.

You can use the CO number to retrieve details from RecordSearch about the agencies an organisation controls.

Agencies and persons


Agencies are distinct, recognisable bodies that are responsible for carrying out administrative functions. They create records to document those functions.

Agencies can be head, state or local offices of Commonwealth Government departments, statutory authorities, courts, or tribunals.

The National Archives registers agencies with a CA (Commonwealth Agency) number, such as:

  • CA 1401, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 1971–ongoing

The information gathered about agencies describes the administrative context in which the agency created its records and provides clues to what the records produced by each agency might be about.

You can use the CA number in RecordSearch to find information about all the series that an agency produced, and other agencies that were responsible for the same function.


The National Archives collects the records of individuals who have had a close association with the Commonwealth, such as Prime Ministers, senior public servants and Governors-General. These people create records in the same way as an agency.

The National Archives registers persons with a CP (Commonwealth Person) number, such as:

  • CP 268, Joseph Benedict Chifley, 1885–51

You can use a CP number in RecordSearch to find information about the agencies the person was associated with and the series of records they deposited with the National Archives.


Agencies and persons create records in series. A series is a group of records that has resulted from the same accumulation or filing process or that has a similar format or information content. A series can be a single item or many items.

The National Archives identifies series with a series number, such as:

  • A907, Ships' passenger lists – inwards (Form P2), 1924–1964

You can use a series number to find the items the National Archives holds that are part of that series.

The National Archives also documents links between series. By looking at the information about one series, you can find out which other series are related to it.


Items are the individual files, volumes, maps, films or any other units that make up a series.

In most cases the National Archives identifies each item by the number or symbol that the agency used when it created the item, such as:

  • 1957/599, Immigrants from Italy – general representations, 1950–1961

The National Archives requires agencies to provide lists of all the items that they transfer to archival custody.

You can see the full item list for a series in the Research Centre where the records are held.

CRS Manual

The CRS Manual is currently under review. For more information please Contact us.