The National Archives – Discovery. The National Archives – Discovery search page is a place you should get to know really well. Many researchers think it is just the place where you go to see if there are enough records at National Archives appertaining to your family history to make it worth a trip to Kew. Yes it is true you might visit the page to find out that, but there is so much more to discover – which is probably why the page is called the Discovery! There used to be a website site called A2A which housed a database which was a combination of catalogues from almost all the record offices and archives around England and Wales. And a very useful website it was too. After some years it was incorporated into the National Archives Discovery catalogue/database, and I get the feeling that knowledge of how useful it is has been somehow forgotten along the way. Well I am here to remedy that.
Firstly so that it is clear in your mind you need to know that the National Archives based at Kew, just outside of London, is the official repository of all the records generated by the government dating from Domesday Book 1086 to the present time. Note some Welsh government records are held at Wales Archives. If you want to know exactly what is where for Welsh research I suggest you send off an email to either archive asking where a particular set of records is held.
Firstly you need to access the right page – Click here to get to the page. Then have a good look around it to see what is on offer. At the top of the page is a round red circle with the word “Menu” on it – clicking on that will bring a drop down menu with all sorts of options. Do take the time to explore some or all of these links, I am sure you will be surprised just what this website has to offer. Looking elsewhere on the page there is information on popular collections of records such as Medals, Wills and Military Service Records. There are Research Guides which have been written by the leading experts on that particular set of documents, these are well worth reading. At the present time there is a link to another page commemorating WW1 and the records that were generated by that conflict. There is a facility to find details of archives around the country. Finally a list of frequent searches which is always interesting to see what other researchers are looking for and an invite to sign up for the TNA newsletter.
However what I want you to do is to click on the words “Advanced Search” which are under the white search box. This brings you to a search page with lots of options which you can fill in or leave as you wish and depending on what you know. Remember as far as genealogy searches go often less is more, meaning that initially put in just the bare essential information and add other information only if you get such a large number of results that it is unworkable.
You can see that I have put in the words “Pottinger Berkshire” into the box for finding all of these words. I want to find any documents containing both the word Pottinger (an ancestors surname) and Berkshire (the county in which the family lived). The search engine is going to search the TNA catalogue for any government generated records as well as the catalogues of most of the large archives in England and Wales which hold records that have come from a wide variety of sources including personal archives. This is what makes the The National Archives – Discovery search engine so exciting, you never know what might come up.
The National Archives – Discovery – the results
Eighty three records came up which contain both the words Pottinger and Berkshire.
- 64 from the National Archives
- 38 are available for download (there is a fee for this and these records may be available on Ancestry or FindMyPast so check first before you purchase a copy)
- 19 from other archives
The records have a time period from 1596 – 1939. The records are a wide variety such as Wills, Court of Chancery, Deeds, Estate Papers, Exchequer King’s Remembrance Papers, Mortgages, Records of the Sun Fire Office, Reports on Criminals, Charities, Business Papers, Royal Hospital Chelsea, Home Office Papers, Criminal Petitions, Quarter Session Records, Admiralty Records and Conveyance Records.
You can see from the example shown that when you click on the title of one of the records it expands and tells you where the record can be found, the reference number date and description of what the record is about giving names and places. You can see this record is at the Museum of English Rural Life which you may have thought would not have documents as part of it’s collection.
The National Archives – Discovery – Summary
I hope this article has inspired you to take some time to thoroughly use this search facility. Some records have a very lengthy description whilst other much shorter, but whatever the length of the record it is always worth using The National Archives – Discovery search engine. Even if you can’t get to the archives to view the records you will know of their existence and the description might give you enough clues to carry your research forward. Don’t forget to look at everything else the TNA website has to offer, it will be time well spent.
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