Friday, May 13, 2011

So...You Want to Visit an Archives or Record Office in the UK

I wanted to put down some good tips for travel and research if you're planning a trip to the UK soon in order to research your family history. These are all tips that I feel will help your research, and indeed your whole holiday, go more smoothly.

My Internship at Shropshire Archives, 2008,
Working on a Deed Collection

Money and the Chip and Pin System

Now, I know for a fact my US bank account debit card does not have a chip in it, though reports indicate that may change soon. This makes it increasingly difficult to buy anything with it when I'm in the UK because while my debit card needs to be swiped in order to use it, the chip and pin is used differently. Although some stores will swipe your card, more and more of the stores will not or cannot swipe your non-chip card.

I suggest knowing ahead of time what you'll be doing and taking money out of the ATM/Cash Machine for your copies, travel, and assorted expenses for the day, keeping in mind the fees you will be charged.

It's a good idea to keep some cash anyway because a lot of archives are switching to copy cards that you load or purchase in certain amounts. Keep in mind too that the actual bills only go down to 5 Pounds, so be prepared to have a change purse to keep Pound Coins in. Making sure you have a few Pound coins are also a good idea, especially since you'll need one to secure your valuables in a locker.

Hours of Operation

Check the website of the archives beforehand to make sure they haven't changed their hours and days of operation. Budgets are still strained due to the economy and the institution may have had to reduce the times they are open.

Reserving Microfilm and Computers

You also want to check to see if you will need reserve use of the microfilm machines and computers beforehand. If there is a chance you will be there during a busy period, you'll want to make sure you have access to the records that are microfilmed, particularly those parish and newspaper records that are available in that format, and online access to records that will help you find what you need.

Also, make sure ahead of time if there is a digital camera fee. This is used in a lot of cases in lieu of copying, and many repositories charge a nominal fee for the privilege.

Recommended Items

I would recommend you take the following items with you:

  • Cash, including at least one Pound coin.
  • Pencil and Notebook, including a list of what you need to find.
  • Magnifying bookmark or small magnifying glass.
  • Secretary hand letter guide.
  • Digital Camera.
A lot of archives have a small shop where you can get the letter guide, pencils, and the magnifying aid.

Catalog Searches

I can't stress enough looking through their online catalog, if available, before your trip. Most of the time your time at the archives will be limited, so planning ahead is a good idea. Scour the website of the archives too, to see if anything you want to see is on microfilm, like parish registers. Make a list of what you want to find, and not the reference numbers of any documents you want to see. This is the magical number you will need in order to have one of the archivists on public service pull the document.


Keep in mind that right now a lot of funds are going toward the Olympics being held in London in 2012. In addition to that, the economy is causing a lot of institutions and government bodies to cut funding, and the heritage sector is a prime target. As a result, archives are experiencing reduced staff and less time to do their work. The fees in place are there to make sure the archives can preserve the documents and provide access to their collections.

Additionally, archivists are being asked to do more in less time. If they restrict access to a document, there is a reason for the policy. Please thank them for their help and advice and perhaps buy something from the archives shop. It'll be a good memento of the trip and a lot of their books will help expand details on your ancestor's lifestyle in that area.

ARCHON (A directory of repositories in the UK):


Some News (Or News about News)

I'm hoping that in the next month, I will be announcing my plans to attend school in the UK again. I am applying to the Masters in Heritage Studies at the University of East London. It will get me back there, I hope permanently, because I intend to get a job over there after graduation. When I make this announcement, I will also be trying to expand my business here, including offering my services for people unable to get to London/England, and starting a companion blog about moving and living in the UK. My aim is to earn as much as I can this summer to cover my plane ticket and the first month of living over there when I have purchase necessities such as household goods. Wish me luck!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I have done research in the UK, but not recently, so it was good to read your up-to-date tips before I go to Yorksgen in July this year.