- To publish the official record of post-war British foreign policy in the series Documents on British Policy Overseas (DBPO)
- To provide briefing support on historical issues for Ministers, senior officials and posts
- To enhance understanding of British foreign policy by publishing FCO Occasional Papers, History Notes and Documents from the Archives
- To organise occasional lectures and seminars
- To manage the FCO’s internal history programme
FCO Historians are not normally able to answer enquiries from the public. The following notes offer some guidance about alternative sources of information.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office holds historical records for only 30 years. After this point they are transferred to The National Archives (TNA) in Kew where they are open for public inspection. Details of opening times and online catalogue are available at the TNA website.
Documents less than 30 years old are subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Under the Act the FCO, like all other public bodies, provides and maintains a Publication Scheme, giving details of what information is already made available by the FCO, and what other information may be made available in the future. For details of how to request information under the Freedom of Information Act please visit the FCO's Freedom of Information website.
Official Documents provides access to official FCO documents published since 1997. These include Annual Reports such as the FCO Departmental Report, Command Papers, Consultations, Historical and Research Papers and Treaties.
Records relating to the East India Company (1600-1858), the Board of Control or Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India (1784-1858), the India Office (1858-1947), and the Burma Office (1937-1948are held at the British Library . The India Office Records are the primary source for the study of British families in South Asia from the early 17th to the mid-20th century. The Records may be consulted in the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections (formerly the Oriental and India Office Collections) where the services and facilities of the Reading Room are available to researchers. For further details contact:
The British Library
Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
Tel: +44 (0)207 412 7873
Fax: +44 (0)207 412 7641
Colonial and Commonwealth queries
For information on colonial and commonwealth records you should consult the
British Documents on the End of Empire Project (BDEEP) which holds an extensive
documentary record of the final stages of Britain's association with the colonies
of the formal empire. Established in 1987 under the auspices of the British
Academy and based at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in the University
of London, BDEEP is currently one of the UK's largest and most successful historical
research projects. It was described in 1996 by the British Academy as 'an outstanding
academic success, a model for other Academy Research Projects both in its scholarship
and management, and fully worthy of the Academy's continued endorsement.'
The Special Operations Executive (SOE)
All the operational files for the wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE) have been released to The National Archives (TNA), where any member of the public can gain access to them. They are located in record series HS. The surviving SOE Personal Files (PFs) have also been transferred to TNA. There are also some documents and oral records about SOE at the Imperial War Museum. Due to the sensitive personal nature of many of these files the Lord Chancellor has stated that SOE personnel files remain closed for the lifetime of the individual concerned (i.e. for 100 years from 1930). If a researcher can demonstrate that the person whose file they wish to examine is deceased, or indeed if you are a living SOE agent and wish to examine your own file, then The National Archives will make the relevant record available. Enquiries should be addressed in the first instance to:
Records Management Department
The National Archives
Kew Surrey, TW9 4DU
British Diplomatic Oral History Project (BDOHP)
The British Diplomatic Oral History Programme (BDOHP) can be accessed at the
Churchill College Archive Centre. It comprises interviews with former
diplomats or other officials who describe the role they have played in events bearing
on international relations.
The best place to begin researching your family history is to visit the FamilyRecords.gov.uk consortium website which contains information provided by government departments and public sector bodies including the British Library, the Commonwealth War Graves Association, the Family Records Centre, the General Registry Office, the Imperial War Museum and the National Archives of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They hold much of the primary source material that should help you in your family history research.Website: http://www.familyrecords.gov.uk/
Diplomatic Service Lists
Brief biographical details of former members of the Diplomatic Service and the Colonial Service may be obtained from the Diplomatic Service List (1856 to date) or the Colonial Office List. Copies of these lists are held at TNA and research libraries, but are not widely available. If you do not have easy access to them, FCO Historians may be able to help - but bear in mind that many people who worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its predecessors, the Foreign Office and the Colonial, Dominions and Commonwealth Offices, do not appear in the lists. Information on former members of the Indian Civil Service may be found in the India Office records at the British Library (see above).
General questions of historical fact or interpretation
For these we suggest you try online history sites such as www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk or a free online encyclopaedia such as wikipedia. You could also try the vast resources available through your local library, or www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk/.
Information Management Group
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Old Admiralty Building
London SW1A 2PA