We hold historic records (archives) created or collected by central government of the United Kingdom, and of the central English law courts. It has rightly been called 'The Nation's Memory', as it houses material spanning a thousand years of our history. The business of central government has long had an impact on everyone's life. Millions of people are named in nationwide census returns of population and taxation lists, in military service papers, records about public officers, merchant shipping, litigants, emigrants and immigrants and a host of other sources.
We may not always be the best place to begin tracing your ancestry, but you will almost certainly find it invaluable at some stage of your research, to provide that vital link between generations or individuals, fix people in place and time, or fill gaps in your family's story.
We also maintain the National Register of Archives, which contains useful information about non-governmental records, and the Manorial Documents Register, which contains information about surviving manorial documents and their known location. These two resources provide further avenues to explore for records held outside The National Archives.
What is special about our family history guide?
- It displays and describes some of our key documents for family historians.
- It shows you what the documents look like and what you may find in them (some of them tell a complete story, whilst others link to related material which will build up the picture)
- Some of the illustrations concern famous people and events, others are about people famous only among those who knew them. They could be your ancestors!
- It identifies and explains how to get to these records and how to use them
- It connects with our research guides containing more information about our holdings, our online catalogues of documents and our online indexes of records held elsewhere
- It lists other helpful websites for family history
- It selects books you can read for more information
- It provides useful addresses to contact
- It is designed to whet your appetite for research with us
What this site is not
- It is not a personal name index
- It is not a step by step guide on how to trace your family tree
- It is not a complete gallery of all we hold of value to family historians
How this site works
- There are five chapters, each with pictures, captions and text, which you can save, download or print out for easy reference
- Some of the chapters link in to each other, but you can use them independently of each other
- There is simple advice on how to locate and research similar documents