The following guides provide useful general introductions to using archives for research:
The guides below introduce the type of records (primary resources) that that particular archive holds. Although due to the COVID-19 pandemic you may not be able to visit the archive in person, it is always worth preparing in advance your request for records that you would like to access. Most archives provide an online search facility, and many publish digitised content on their websites.
The National Archives search facility ‘Discovery’ allows you to access information about records held by The National Archives and more than 2,500 other archives.
Archives Hub is a similar designated search engine across all archive collections in the UK.
In Scotland the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) keep a register of private archives. These are not normally accessible to the public, but if you reach out and try make contact explaining what your research is, you may be allowed access.
Archives Portal Europe is the European version of the Archives Hub; you can search across catalogues of European archive collections.
Europeana brings together digitised collections as well as catalogue information from GLAM sector (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) from across Europe.
Archives Canada is a federated search engine for archival holdings across Canada.
Ancestry and Find My Past are available for genealogical research and discovering your family history. These are paid services that allow you to access public records, historic census and immigration data, birth registers, obituaries and more. You can even build your family tree.
You can also research your family history using the General Register Office by ordering birth, adoption, marriage, civil partnership and death certificates.
If your research goes as far back as pre-1837, Parish Registers can help you to trace your family roots through baptisms, marriages, and burials records. These records were made and held by the Church before the official records of birth, marriage and death started.
Map-based resources and local history
If you are looking for a specific type of archive related to your local area you can use this search facility from The National Archives: Find an archive in the UK and beyond.
An interesting source of information for local historians are maps. Tithe maps demonstrate how archives are linked with country’s administrative history as they were originally created for the purpose of collecting taxes. Many local authority archives publish these online (for example The West Yorkshire Tithe Maps or Welsh Tithe Maps) and there are also paid services for online research like The Genealogist.
Ordnance Survey (OS) is the national mapping agency for Great Britain. The agency's name indicates its original military purpose, which was to map Scotland in the wake of the Jacobite rising of 1745. The National Library of Scotland has digitised and published online Ordnance Survey as well as other maps dating as far back as 1560. The maps cover areas beyond Scotland, including maps of England and Great Britain, Ireland, Belgium, and Jamaica. Watch the video introduction to how to use this fascinating resource.
Read Where to find old maps of your area if you want to explore more sources of information on maps and researching your local area or history of your house.
London Interest Maps
London Metropolitan Archives
Audiovisual archives (sound, moving image, photography)
Most archive services will hold audiovisual records in their collections. These are specialist repositories that only look after specific type of media or formats due to special conditions required for storage and preservation of their materials.
Sound archives and collections
Moving image/film archives
- The Association of Performing Arts Collections (APAC) is the membership organisation for professionals, specialists, and other individuals working with or interested in performing arts heritage in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
- Black Cultural Archives - Black Cultural Archives collect, preserve and celebrate the histories of people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK and to inspire and give strength to individuals, communities and society.
- Women’s Library - The Women’s Library collection tells the story of the campaign for women’s rights and women’s equality from the beginnings of the suffrage movement to the present day.
- British Architectural Library - The Royal Institute of British Architects owns one of the largest and most diverse architectural collections in the world.
- Wellcome Collection - Major global resource for the study of medical history and a growing collection of material relating to contemporary medicine and biomedical science in society.