Government files and the system that preceded their introduction have been eclipsed by the introduction of electronic record keeping systems. This has been accompanied both by a marked deterioration in record keeping practices and the use of record keeping to enable an audit culture. The article explores what those charged with integrating digital records into the archives might learn from record keeping practice in the paper world. By explaining how registry systems functioned and developed, it argues that many of the problems and proposed solutions that information technologists believe to be novel have long antecedents. It concludes by suggesting that the voice of the historian needs to be heard more clearly in the debate about the role the archives play in contemporary democratic societies.