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

National Archives and Libraries

The following repositories house materials about England. These are very helpful.

The National Archives
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:

The National Archives
Kew
Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU
England 
The National Archives

For a detailed list of the records housed in The National Archives, see the online catalogue 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; computer number 0541219.)

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; computer number 0529932.)

Information is also accessible through GENUKI.

General Register Office

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 the “Civil Registration” section of this outline 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
England

British Library

British Library Newspapers
Colindale Avenue,
London NW9 5HE
England

Guildhall Library.

Guildhall Library has many guild (occupation) and business records, kept at:

Guildhall Library
Aldermanbury
London EC2P 2EJ
England

Guilhall Library

The Guildhall Library also has Lloyd’s Marine Collection (see the “Merchant Marine” article) 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.)

Information is also accessible through the GENUKI Web site at:

www.genuki.org.uk


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.

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.

Public Libraries

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.

Special Archives

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.


General Guides

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.) 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.) 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. If possible, study these guides before you visit or use the records so you can use your time more effectively.

Many published inventories, guides, catalogs, and directories for archives and libraries are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under:

ENGLAND - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES

ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES

ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [CITY] - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES

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. To find the call numbers, look in the Author/Title Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:

NATIONAL INVENTORY OF DOCUMENTARY SOURCES IN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND IRELAND

A name and subject index to this collection is available (London: Chadwick-Healey, 1986–). (Family History Library fiche 6341118; compact disc 1313 no. 10.)


Locating Web sites for Record Offices and Libraries

You can locate an archive or library’s Web site on the Internet through GENUKI at:

www.genuki.org.uk/big/#Archives

Computer Networks and Bulletin Boards

Computers with modems can be useful tools for obtaining information from selected archives and libraries. In a way, computer networks themselves serve as a library. The Internet, certain computer bulletin boards, and commercial on-line services help family history researchers:

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 computerized research tips and information about ancestors from England in a variety of sources at the local, county, national, or international level. The list of sources is growing rapidly and most of the information is available at no cost.

The FamilySearch™ Internet Genealogy Service at www.familysearch.org. This Web site, created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, may help you with your family history by allowing you to:

Search the Church’s family history databases that are available on-line.

Coordinate your research efforts with others.

Preserve and share your genealogy.

Search other Internet sites for information about your ancestors.

Addresses on the Internet change frequently. The following site is an important gateway linking you to many more network and bulletin board sites:

www.genuki.org.uk

GENUKI is a cooperative effort by many genealogical and historical societies to list databases, libraries, bulletin boards, and other resources available on the Internet for parishes and counties.