The National Archives of the United Kingdom
The National Archives (acronym TNA) is the official governmental archive of the United Kingdom, containing nine hundred years of history with records ranging from parchment and paper scrolls through to digital files and archive websites.The TNA is home to records created by the central government, metropolitan law courts and civil administrative agencies. These archived documents span every gamut of legal register from the Domesday Book of 1086 to present day military rolls. All these records can be searched through the online catalogue at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/. These documents can be viewed at an onsite visit or some records from popular collections can be downloaded onto your own computer. There is a modest fee per page for the downloads.
If visiting onsite or ordering by mail the postal address is:
- The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU
It should be noted at this point that all copies of birth, adoption, marriage and death certificates after 1837 are held in the General Register Office not the TNA. They can be ordered online through the Home Office Identity & Passport Service.
TNA Home Page
The TNA home page (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk) is very informative and filled with options for searching more than just the UK National Archives. This page can be overwhelming for a first time user so steps to conduct a search will be explained in the following outline. These steps will describe some of the categories under key tabs and how to input search terms that will yield results. The TNA website is constantly evolving with pictures, quick links and banners. Though colors, menus, and layout change as the site develops, the site usually has a navigation bar with tabs just under their logo at the top of the home page. Please get familiar with the two tabs, Education and Records.
On TNA home page choose the Education grey tab to see a list of topics and recent TNA news items. A second set of tabs give access to further information. As of Feb 2012, the secondary tabs are lessons, workshops, videoconverences, virtual classrooms, and professional development. These taught sessions and online resources are designed for schools, students, and teachers. While workshops are for those who can visit TNA in person, the videoconferences are carried out online. Both have a limited number of participants and are usually booked six to eight months ahead. An online lesson about TNA prepared by TNA staff is also available at FamilySearch
These are available at the TNA and cover many assorted areas, from crime related incidents in the 18th and 19th century, to the history of Hoffmann La Roche (the Swiss Pharmacuetical Company). You have to scroll through the entire collection which is quite large to locate the files you would like to find out more about. If you want to browse through the collection then clicking on "Podcasts" in the heading will take you to the website. These Podcasts can be viewed online or else downloaded to your own computer. They are in the form of talks that encompass so many varied areas, that are too numerous to list here. At the bottom of the short bio of the lecture you may find the following notation: "Further information, show notes and transcript" if you click on that area, you might be able to view onscreen the entire transcript of the Podcast.
If you would like to view a listing of Podcasts relating to Family History, select Family History Podcasts to see those currently available.
TNA offers a variety of online learning for teachers and students. These include two series developed in cooperation with the University of Virginia, classes on document collections, and an accredited degree programme.
The tab Records opens a page which will introduce the immense collection of records. In addition to helping you get started in searching for a person, place, or subject, it has a quick links box which lists some of the most useful databases and searches available through TNA. These include:
- Discovery - the beta version of the TNA search service which will replace the separate searches on the current website.
- The Catalogue - a combination index search and catalogue of records at TNA.
- Documents Online - A combination of millions of digitized records and indexes to millions of non-digitized records. Indexed records include service records of the Royal Marines, Seamen, and Army personnel, while digitized records include all wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (1384-1858) and copies of wills from the Death Duties collection (1796-1811).
- The National Register of Archives - maintained by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, the NRA consists of over 44000 unpublished lists and catalogs describing archival holdings in the United Kingdom and overseas. The catalogue records (but not the content of the records described) can be searched by business, family, personal, or place names.
The Catalogues and online records tab gives a fuller list of records and indexes available online, including many on TNA partner sites such as FindMyPast, Ancestry, and BMDRegisters. Some available on the TNA web site which are of use to genealogists include:
- Manorial Documents Register - identifies the nature and location of manorial records. The MDR is partially computerised – Wales, the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire (all three Ridings), Shropshire, Surrey, Middlesex, Cumberland, Westmorland, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and that part of Lancashire north of the Sands (the Furness area, part of Cumbria since 1974) are available online.
- Taxation Records (E 179) - search for TNA 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.
- Equity Pleadings (C6) - search over 30,000 court cases from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by name, place, or subject.
- Trafalgar ancestors - Details of service and genealogy of over 18,000 individuals who fought in Nelson's fleet at the naval Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.
This tab leads to an alphabetical list of In-Depth TNA Research Guides available on-line in digitized format. These booklets give step-by-step directions on how to search the wealth of collections for this category. An example could be, British Army: Soldiers' discharge papers, 1760-1913, Military Records Information 5. The table of contents in this guide includes:
- Where to start
- Royal Hospital Chelsea, Soldier's Documents
- Regimental Registers of Admissions to Pension
- Irish Establishment Discharges, 1783-1822
- Artillery Service Records
- Other Discharge Papers
and ends with the National Archives Library Bibliography.
Within each section are exact references to the class number and the piece number. If the document is not available within TNA, the appropriate archive or museum is referenced.
The Catalogue is being replaced (spring 2012) by a new service called Discovery. Until then, the Catalogue is the central focus for all National Archive quests. An archive catalogue is not like a library catalogue. The difference must be understood before undertaking any search. In libraries books are organized by subject classifications, i.e. history, biographies, but archives are arranged by collections or in the case of the TNA by the Office or department which created them. Each originating Office is identified by a series of letters, i.e. WO=War Office, C=Chancery, or PLC=Poor Law Commission. Records created by the same cabinet Office are grouped in a separate series number (called a class number). The class numbers are usually assigned sequentially and have no significance other than assisting in finding records. Classes are then divided into bundles or pieces (sometimes called boxes or tins). Within a piece, bundle, box, or tin, records are often numbered by page, sheet, folio, or some other reference number.
When looking for a record, all identifying classifications are required, i.e. originating Office code, class or series number, piece number, and page number. References are always written in the same way: departmental code, a space, class number, forward stroke (slash), piece or bundle number, forward stroke, page or folio number. For example: WO 364/1100/29 or MH 10/86/11. These numbers are needed when requesting any information, whether online or onsite.
Class Numbers (Reference Codes and Descriptions)
Descriptions of each record class, what they contain, details of findings 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 a originating Office code and class 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 so directions to search this page will be explained below.
Tips for Visiting in Person
Very affordable accommodations are available within walking distance. TNA has an extensive guide to preparing for a visit to their archive. A list of bed and breakfast accomodations which cater to TNA visitors is updated annually.