England Archives and Libraries
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Archives collect and preserve original documents of organizations, such as churches or governments. Libraries generally collect published sources such as books, maps, and microfilm. This section describes England’s major repositories of genealogical and historical records and sources.
If you plan to visit one of these repositories, check well in advance on their website for details about the collection, hours they are open, services, fees, and whether you need to book in advance. You should also find out if you need a “reader’s ticket” (a paper indicating you are a responsible researcher) and details of how to obtain one.
Remember, the Family History Library may have printed or microfilmed copies of the records you need.
The major types of repositories holding records of genealogical value are:
- National archives and libraries
- County record offices
- Public libraries
- Local history libraries
- Special archives
- 1 National Archives and Libraries
- 2 County Record Offices
- 3 Public Libraries
- 4 Local History Societies
- 5 Special Archives
- 6 General Guides
- 7 Inventories, Registers, Catalogs
- 8 Information on the Internet
National Archives and Libraries
The following repositories house materials about England. These are very helpful.
The National Archives
- Main article: The National Archives
- The National Archives collects records of the central government and law courts from 1086 to the present. These records provide a wealth of information for the family researcher but are best used after you have gathered information elsewhere. Many of the most popular resources are online or on microfilm, and are on open access. You do not need a reader’s ticket to use these collections, but you will need one to view original documents. The staff does not do research but will usually do brief searches if you supply enough information. You can write to this office at the following address:
- For a detailed list of the records housed in The National Archives, see the online Catalogue:
- Great Britain. The National Archives. "Kew Lists." Microfiche edition. Norwich, England: HMSO Books, 1988. It does not list records held at Chancery Lane before the two offices were combined. There are 3,542 microfiche and a manuscript introduction. (Family History Library book 942 A3gp.)
- For other helpful guides to The National Archives, see:
- Bevan, Amanda, Tracing Your Ancestors in The National Archives. 7th edition. London: TNA, 2006. (Family History Library book 942 A5p no. 19 2002, BYU Family History Library book CS 410.7 .B482 2006.)
- Information is also accessible through GENUKI.
- For information about how to order a document from the National Archives, see their online: order instructions.
General Register Office
- Main article: General Register Office for England and Wales
The General Register Office (part of the Identity and Passport Service) houses government birth, marriage, and death certificates from 1 July 1837 to the present for all of England and Wales. Copies may be obtained either online or by post from the General Register Office or from the local register office where the event was registered. See England Civil Registration for address details.
The British Library
The British Library is the national repository for all published materials in England. Because its collection is so complex, usually only experienced researchers use it. The library has several departments. The following are the most useful to family history researchers:
British Library at St. Pancras
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
British Library Newspapers
London NW9 5HE
Guildhall Library has many guild (occupation) and business records, kept at:
London EC2P 2EJ
The Guildhall Library also has Lloyd's Marine Collection and London city parish registers.
Historical Manuscripts Commission.
The Historical Manuscripts Commission joined with the Public Record Office in 2003 to form The National Archives.
It has responsibility for the Manorial Documents Register and the National Register of Archives (NRA) and has been working to inventory records that are in archives and private collections. The National Register of Archives (NRA) which includes over 191,000 lists of manuscript collections and close to 5,000 finding aids and annual reports from various repositories. These lists are indexed and can be searched online at National Register of Archives. Part of the Manorial Documents Register is also online at Manorial Documents Register
The Family History Library has a topographical index to the reports of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts on microfiche 6021002 through 6021002. These indexes are divided into three sections: people, businesses, and organizations. The commission has also published several inventories and reports, some of which are available through the Family History Library. Look in the Author/Title Search of the library catalog under “Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts.” Also check the Locality search under:
GREAT BRITAIN - HISTORY - SOURCES
GREAT BRITAIN - HISTORY - SOURCES - INDEXES
Many of the records described by the commission have changed hands since being examined. For information about the present location of records surveyed by the commission see:
- The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. Guides to Sources for British History based on the National Register of Archives. Guide To The Location Of Collections Described in the Reports and Calendars Series 1870-1980. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. 1982. (Family History Library book 942 H25gs vol.3; computer number 0204994, BYU Family History Library book DA 30 .X1 G84.)
Information is also accessible through the GENUKI Web site.
British Pathé - newsreel archive www.britishpathe.com
County Record Offices
In England each county has one or more offices that house records about the particular county. Records of genealogical value in these offices include land records, church records, taxation records, probate records, miscellaneous indexes, and collections. Some county record offices have personal or place-name indexes to some of the records in their collection.
County record offices are open to the public. Some require a reader’s ticket. If you write for information, be as concise as possible. The offices are small and have limited staff, so you may have to wait a few weeks for a reply. If staff members are unable to search their records, you may ask for a list of record agents who can search the records for you.
A helpful book that displays maps of record office locations is:
- Gibson, J.S.W. and Pamela Peskett. Record Offices--How to Find Them. [England]: Federation of Family History Societies, c1987. FHL Collection. (The Wiltshire Record Office has moved.)
Two books listing addresses for county record offices are:
- Church, Rosemary, and Jean Cole. In and Around Record Repositories in Great Britain and Ireland. 3rd ed. Huntingdon, Cambridge: Family Tree Magazine, 1992. (Family History Library book 942 J54cj; computer number 0673604.) This gives street and mailing addresses and maps showing the locations of offices.
- Record Repositories in Great Britain: A Geographical Guide. 10th ed. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1997. (Family History Library book 942 J54r 1999; computer number 0638954.) This gives street and mailing addresses of the repositories, along with their telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and Internet sites.
A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:
Public libraries collect many published sources such as local histories, city directories, maps, newspapers, family histories, and parish registers. You can find addresses for public libraries in:
Harrold, Ann, ed. Academic Libraries in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland 1991. 18th ed. London: The Library Association Publishing Limited, 1991. (Family History Library book 942 J54aL; computer number 0193703.)
Local History Societies
Local history society librarians collect and write histories of the people and places in their area. Addresses of local history societies are in the following books:
- Henderson, S.P.A., and A.J.W. Henderson,ed. Directory of British Associations & Associations in Ireland. 13th ed. Beckenham, Kent: CBD Research Ltd., 1996. (Family History Library book 942 E4hd; computer number 0054630.)
- Pinhorn, Malcolm. Historical, Archaeological and Kindred Societies in the United Kingdom: A List. Isle of Wight: Pinhorns, 1986. (Family History Library book 942 C4h 1986; computer number 0370075.) An update to this book was published in 1995.
- Further information: England Societies (Local History Societies)
City, university, occupational, and ecclesiastical archives also hold family history information. Holdings and services vary widely. The books by Foster and Moulton described below in “General Guides” give more information about special archives.
- Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London - digitized archive of the company's in-house magazine since 1946.
- The Stage Archive - over 6,500 issues detailing actors, theatres, and performances
- J. Lyons & Co. - detailing the Lyons Patisserie Company's history
- British Postal Museum and Archive
- Working Class Movement Library - papers, journals, newsletters, etc. of trade unions
- Marks & Spencer archive - retail industry archive
- John Lewis Memory Store
- House of Fraser Archive
- British Telecom Digital Archives - searchable resources, photos, publications and correspondence back to 1846
- Modern Records Centre - information relating to unions and occupations
- Trade Union Ancestors
Some guides to English archives and libraries are:
Foster, Janet, and Julia Sheppard. British Archives: A Guide to Archive Resources in the United Kingdom. 3rd ed. New York: Stockton Press Ltd., 1995. (Family History Library book 942 J54f 1995; computer number 0763911.) (BYU Family History Library book CD 1040 .F67 2001 4th ed.) This guide lists addresses, major records, and publications of various repositories in the United Kingdom. It is indexed by county and by type of collection.
Iredale, David. Enjoying Archives: What They Are, Where to Find Them, How to Use Them. Chichester, Sussex: Phillimore & Co. Ltd., 1985. (Family History Library book 942 A5i 1985; computer number 0183662.) This guide describes the heritage of documents in Great Britain and a few of the archives where documents are stored. It explains the work of the county record office, how the staff preserves manuscripts, and a method for reading old records.
Moulton, Joy Wade. Genealogical Resources in English Repositories. Columbus, Ohio: Hampton House, 1988. Supplement published 1992. (Family History Library book 942 J54m; computer number 0469640.) (BYU Family History Library book CS 414 .X1 M94 1996.) This book contains addresses and describes the holdings of county record offices, genealogical and family history societies, and other repositories. Maps of repository locations are included.
Inventories, Registers, Catalogs
Most archives have publications that describe their collections and how to use them. Some are online. Others are in print. If possible, study these guides before you visit or use the records so you can use your time more effectively. You can find the Web site of an archive in the Archon Directory.
National Inventory of Documentary Source in the United Kingdom and Ireland
"The National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United Kingdom and Ireland" is a microfiche collection of calendars and finding aids for British archives, libraries, and museums. It provides a detailed listing of the box, folder, and sometimes individual documents contained in various collections. A name and subject index to this collection is available in a few archives and libraries, including the Family History Library (FHL fiche 6341118; compact disc 1313 no. 10.)
Family History Library
Many published inventories, guides, catalogs, and directories for archives and libraries are listed in the Family History Library. To find them, use the Place Search in the catalog under:
ENGLAND - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES
ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [CITY] - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES
Recognizing that the British Government BMD records did not start until 1838, and also that these were very sparse until the mid 1850's, the best source for earlier records are church records. These are normally identified as Parish Records. A list of these can be found at the following Family Search location:
Information on the Internet
The Internet, mailing lists, bulletin boards and commercial on-line services help family history researchers to:
- Locate other researchers.
- Post queries.
- Send and receive E-mail.
- Search large databases.
- Search computer libraries.
- Join in computer chat and lecture sessions.
You can find research tips and information about ancestors from England in a variety of sources at the local, county, national, or international level. Most archives and libraries have their own Websites. The Archon Directory can help locate a Web site, or search online for the name of the archive or library.