Today I travelled to the National Archives located on the banks of the Thames River at Kew. I was pleased to be able to meet with Roger Kershaw who gave me a short tour of the facilities.
Roger is Head of Military, Maritime, Transport and Family History and is a regular speaker on topics related to the National Archive’s collection. In fact, I heard him at the 13th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry held nearly a year ago in Adelaide.
The National Archives is the government’s archive for England, Wales and the United Kingdom, holding over 1,000 years of the nation’s records, making it one of the largest archives in the world.
I am familiar with the TNA website, especially since my Library service now subscribes to Discovery, where researchers can search and download digitised records. After talking with Roger, I intend to make myself more familiar with its contents and the wonderful online resources it provides for researchers worldwide. The website complements the on site service provided at Kew and can often meet the needs of researchers, who come along to the Archives with their specific research needs, without having to request access to any original records. This may include popular genealogy records such as census, wills, service records and passenger lists.
The Archives are a welcoming environment for a new researcher; a welcome brochure may be picked up at the reception desk, which details all you need to help you find your way around.
The Ground floor includes an exhibition space as well as a book and gift shop. Some publications are written by archives staff. The website also hosts an excellent online bookshop.
The first floor welcomes researchers with the “Start here” desk and two major enquiry desks; red for military, maritime or family history records and blue enquiry desk for questions about political, economic or social history. At the “Start here” desk, staff provide guidance with the facilities of the Archives and how to begin your research. If your research requires looking at an original record, you need to apply for the reader’s ticket, which includes going through a short online document handling information tutorial. Up to three documents may be requested for access at any time.
The first floor also includes the document reading room, which is accessed by swiping one’s reader card. Huge banks of microfilm readers no longer exist as records in this format are available elsewhere – increasingly online as a digitised resource. A large reference collection is also available to browse (but also accessible via the catalogue) consisting of books, pamphlets, yearbooks, directories and periodicals.
The second floor is where a reader’s ticket is arranged. It also houses the map and large document reading room.
The National Archives have completed a number of digitisation projects with about 5% of the total collection accessible online such as census records and passenger lists. The Archives plan to continue their digitisation programs.
Other interesting resources available online include for example, Trafalgar ancestors.
Weekly talks are usually accessible via podcast. Conference days are undertaken regularly; last year a successful conference on the Titanic coincided with the anniversary of the sinking of this famous ship. This year the theme is planned to focus on Railways.
I encourage all family history researchers – or history lovers for that matter – to explore the wonderful material available on the Archives website. You never know what you might find till you start looking. Perhaps start here.