Record Offices in England and Wales

Record Offices bring together collections of items and documents local to the area served by the Archive.  They have specialised staff who are very knowledgeable about the items in their care, and have helped to conserve the records for future generations to enjoy. 

The records they hold can take you on a magical journey of discovery, and can make your ancestors really come to life, rather than just being names on a family tree.  Seeing your ancestor's signature on a document for the first time is always a thrill.

Once you have asked your relatives what they know about the family, and have gained as much information as possible from sources such as birth, marriage and death certificates, and sources you can find online, you will want to further your research by visiting a Record Office, where you can peruse many sources that will help you to discover more information about your ancestors.  A Record Office is also the best place to double check the information you may have discovered online, such as in an online tree.

The Archive Searchroom

Most Archives have a search-room which includes reference books, catalogues and indexes. They also have a strongroom where other records are kept, and a conservation room where repair work is undertaken.

Ordering Documents

You are usually able to order documents from the strongroom for scrutiny in the Search-room subject to the particular Archive's regulations for use in order to protect the documents as much as possible as some are fragile and to ensure they are available for future generations.  

Use a Pencil to make notes

You should always use a pencil to take notes as most archivists require you to use this rather than a pen as using a pen could damage documents and/or books.

Collections held by the Archive

Collections held by an Archive can include:

These records can come from a variety of sources, including businesses, churches, local organisations, private individuals, prominent families, schools and solicitors' offices.

Many Archives have compiled name indexes to the collections they hold, so it is best to check those first.  

If you are unable to visit a Record Office, many offer a research service, where they can conduct research on your behalf.

Record Offices - Planning Your Trip

Trips to Archives should always be planned in advance. You are recommended to ring beforehand to check it is open on the day you intend to visit and also to book a table if this is required.  It is also best to use their online website to peruse their online catalogue, read their guides to sources held, and discover what family history resources they hold. 

Some Record Offices recommend that you note down the catalogue reference numbers of the documents you wish to consult to save time when you arrive, and even to order documents in advance of your visit if you wish, although you do have to tell them the date and approximate time of your proposed visit.

You should also check you do not have to book a microfilm or microfiche reader as some documents, such as parish registers, have become fragile over the years and have been transferred on to microfiche in order to protect the original documents as much as possible. Some offices also have an index of parish registers held.  Some census returns have also been transferred to microfilm.

When ringing, you should make sure the office has the material you want to access and also to make sure you do not have to give advance notice even if the Archive does have the material.

If you want to take a laptop with you it is worth mentioning this at the time of booking as some tables might not provide computer accessibility. You may be able to use a camera in the Archive, but it is worth double checking that this is permitted before visiting.

You should take your notes with you, so you know the names and dates relating to the ancestors you are searching for, and the best way to do this is to use a family tree chart or computer software program.

It is also best to check what parking is available if going by car, because they do not all have a car park for use by visitors.

To access the search room proof of identity is often required. This is usually an official document stating your name and address. If you are a member of the CARN (County Archive Research Network) this reader's ticket is normally accepted as proof of identity, but not all Record Offices are members of the scheme, so they may issue with you with their own reader's ticket.

Many Record Offices provide free access to the internet, which includes free access to sites such as Ancestry and FindmyPast.  They also hold many local history books you may find of use.

Record Offices in England and Wales by County:

> Record Offices


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