The National Archives of the United Kingdom
|The National Archives|
|Scope||containing 1000 years of history from Domesday Book to the present|
|Reference to legal mandate||Public Records Act 1958|
|Location||Kew, Richmond, TW9 4DU|
|Criteria for collection||official archive for England and Wales|
|Access and use|
|Access requirements||Anybody aged 14+ with two acceptable proofs of identity|
|Circulation||130 million documents online and 600 thousand documents on site (2010-11)|
|Budget||£38.3 million (2010-11)|
|Chief Executive and Keeper||Oliver Morley|
|Phone number||+44 (0) 20 8876 3444|
|References: Annual Report 2010-11 |
The National Archives is home to records created by the United Kingdom central government and agencies, and the legal system of England and Wales. These archived documents span records of many kinds from Domesday Book of 1086 to the present-day UK Government Web Archive. Records relating to the United Kingdom as a whole may contain information on Scotland and Ireland - all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom until 1922. These include military and naval records, coastguards, customs and excise, passenger lists and more.
All these records can be searched through Discovery, The National Archives online catalogue at discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ Original documents can be viewed onsite and some records from popular collections can be downloaded onto your own computer. There is a modest fee for downloads and some are free.
- The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU, United Kingdom
- contact form (in lieu of email): web form
- phone: +44 (0) 20 8876 3444
- blog: The National Archives Blog
- Facebook: TheNationalArchives
- Twitter: @UkNatArchives
- YouTube channel: nationalarchives08
The National Archives Home Page
The National Archives home page (The National Archives Gov. Uk) is informative and filled with options for searching more than just the UK National Archives. Although many users of the The National Archives are family historians, this is not primarily a family history site, and most records are not name-indexed. Of those that are indexed, several of the most popular cannot be searched and downloaded from The National Archives own website, but are on partner sites such as Ancestry.co.uk, Findmypast.co.uk and The Genealogist. So it is important to start by looking at the research guidance before embarking on a search in Discovery. The research guides can found by following the link at the top of the home page, Explore our records. 
This page contains links to hundreds of research guides arranged by category, such as Family history, First World War, land and maps and so on. The Family history category has links to 193 guides, listed alphabetically, and you can filter the list further by subject, using the menu panel on the left of the page. You can also browse an A-Z list of keywords.
Each guide tells you about records held in The National Archives on that subject, and whether they have been digitised or indexed. There are links to the relevant section of Discovery, as appropriate, and to useful resources on other sites.
There is also a link to a list of Catalogues and online records which includes details of indexes such as:
- Taxation database (E179) - search for The National Archives holdings of tax records for any given place from the 13th to 17th centuries. NOTE: requires two searches - first to identify the place, then second to see what tax records TNA has for that place. Identifies the records, but records themselves are not indexed by name, nor are they available online.
- Trafalgar Ancestors database - Details of service and some biographical details of over 18,000 individuals who fought in Nelson's fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.
- Digital microfilm - Microfilm records (unindexed) which can be downloaded free of charge as large PDF files
Other links from this page include:
- Blog posts - by members of The National Archives staff, on a wide variety of subjects. You can browse by category, or search by keyword, author or date.
- Podcasts - audio recordings of talks at The National Archives, including webinars. These are on a variety of subjects, including a Family history category. Podcasts may include transcripts or presentation slides; webinars always include presentation slides.
- Understand the Archives - how archives work, how to find and understand records, and how to look after your own records; including a Start here area for new users and interactive tutorials on Latin and palaeography,
The home page contains a link to the Education area of the site. This includes content aimed mainly at schools, students and teachers, but provide useful background information on British history. They are arranged by historical period, and include sample documents, teachers' notes, suggested tasks and some games. Items marked 'classroom resources' can be used by anyone, free of charge. Those marked 'Session we teach' are only available as booked sessions for UK schools.
If you would like to view a listing of Podcasts relating to Family History, select Family History Podcasts to see those currently available
Discovery, The National Archives online catalogue
The old Catalogue was replaced in 2012 by Discovery.The current version contains the contents of the old online Catalogue, including full details of digitised documents that formerly had to be searched separately on DocumentsOnline. It also includes online catalogues from local and specialist archives, previously called Access to Archives (A2A). Using the Advanced search facility you can search across all collections, or restrict your search to either The National Archives or 'Other archives'.
Several other resources have been incorporated into Discovery:
- ARCHON directory of archive contact details, now called Find an archive.
- Manorial Documents Register - identifies the nature and location of manorial records. The records listed include court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, and all other documents relating to the boundaries, franchises, wastes, customs or courts of a manor. Title deeds are not included. The MDR is partially online – all of Wales, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cumberland, Derbyshire, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, Westmorland, Yorkshire (all three Ridings) are available online as of July 2015.
- National Register of Archives (NRA): how to find the location of particular archive collections. To search the NRA go to Advanced search and select the 'Record creators' tab at the top of the page
You can sort and filter your search results, or download and save them in a spreadsheet. The full description of a single document will tell you if it can be downloaded, viewed on microfilm, or is an original document that can only be consulted onsite.
There is detailed advice on using all of these resources in Discovery help which can be accessed fom any page within Discovery.
An archive catalogue is not like a library catalogue. In libraries books are organized by subject classifications, i.e. history, biographies, but archives are arranged by collections or in the case of the The National Archives by the government department or branch of the English legal system which created or collected them. These are indicated by letter codes (e.g. WO - War Office, C - Chancery, or WARD - Court of Wards and Livery). Within each departmental letter code the records are divided into separate series (formerly called classes) indicated by series numbers. The series numbers are usually assigned sequentially and have no significance other than assisting in finding records. Class or series numbers are further divided into pieces., sometimes called 'bundles' in older texts. Within a piece, records are often numbered by page, sheet, folio, quire or some other reference number.
A full document reference is needed to view original documents or microfilm, or to order copies. This is in the form of the department letter code, followed by the series number and then the piece number, in the following format - ADM 175/103 or MH 12/1453. In some cases a piece has been further divided in separate items, and the item number forms part of the full reference eg HO 144/300/B2931
Class (or Series) Descriptions
Descriptions of each record class, what they contain, details of finding aids, how and why these records were created, can be found in the catalogue. To get to these descriptions, click on The Catalogue then enter letter code and series number in the top left box where it says: Go to reference. The next page will reveal the context of the originating Office records, which division created this record and what these pieces contain. An example is WO 363/A 127 which are records created by the War Office, service records of World War I soldiers, the “A” is for soldiers with the last name beginning with A on piece 127. After the context description is a record summary. This gives the dates covered in this series and their availability to the public. If you would like to find the exact piece for the alphabetical listing of a particular surname enter the reference again in the box titled "browse from this reference." This will open a description of all surnames in each piece. Many of these service records are in the online digitized collection.
Tips for Visiting in Person
TNA has an extensive guide to preparing for a visit to their archive. Affordable accommodations are available within walking distance. A list of bed and breakfast accommodations which cater to TNA visitors is updated annually.
- "The National Archives Annual Report 2010-11". The National Archives. 2011-06-23. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/annualreport-10-11.pdf. Retrieved 2012-05-24.