The National Archives

From the Family Tree Forum Reference Library


The website of the National Archives can be very confusing at first sight. It is easy to search in a random fashion but it is also very easy to lose yourself and then not appear to be able to reproduce your search for another time. Because of this, many people don’t bother with it …

The intention of this set of pages is to help you find your way round the website.

The main thing to remember is that the National Archives is not set up exclusively for Family Historians and even though it has enormous holdings of over 10 million documents, the information that you are looking for may not be there to find.

The purpose of the site is to provide access to the resources held by The National Archives, in order to enable people to view them without having to physically take a trip to Kew to see them for themselves. There is a vast amount of information on the site which is growing all the time. This varies from sections aimed at young children to those for specialised historians, geographers and other researchers.

Getting started

On the left hand side of the Home Page you will see a menu. Each link takes you to a page where you will find an explanation of what is available to help you in your research and where you will find it. N.B. These links can take you outside the site.

Family History Military History Learning and Research
Fammenu2.jpg Milmenu2.jpg Learnmenu.jpg
Direct links to sources and background information for Census records, Births, marriages & deaths, Wills, Adoption records and Outward passenger lists. Direct links to sources and background information for the British Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force, WW1 medals, Merchant navy, WW1 soldiers' records and more. Direct links to The Catalogue and Documents Online together with very detailed (searchable) lists of what is available at The National Archives in Kew.
more family history... takes you to a detailed explanation about how to begin your research into your family history. more military history.. takes you to a detailed explanation about how to research military history.

Searching the National Archives Website

The resources which can be found listed on the site are catalogued in several ways:

  • Documents which are held at The National Archives ~ The Catalogue
  • Documents which are held in other locations ~ Access 2 Archives
  • Documents from the NRA, local and private archives ~ National Register of Archives

In addition to this, it is possible to search for and immediately download some documents ~ Documents Online

Global search

The National Archives has developed a new Global Search which allows you to search the Catalogue at the same time as the Access to Archives (A2A) database, DocumentsOnline and other online resources.

Global Search is a one-stop search across the holdings of The National Archives of the United Kingdom and of local and private archives (mostly in England) delivering fast results sorted by subject. Your results list will tell you which database each hit came from. There will also be a link to the catalogue entry, so you can follow up on your findings. You can use the Advanced Search to select specific databases.

You can begin your search by using the search box at the top of the Home Page. If you have an unusual surname to find, this can often be the most effective way.

These search results will give you a list of results which could be from any of the searchable databases.
They will be categorised (in a menu on the left) according to type.

Searching the databases

The Catalogue Documents Online Access 2 Archives
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The Catalogue Documents Online Seach the A2A
This is a listing of all the records which are available in the National Archives. This is the area where you can immediately download the document which you find. The A2A database is a search engine which will search through the catalogues of archives held locally in England and Wales and dating from the eighth century to the present day. It is updated regularly as more records are added to these archives.
Searching the Catalogue Finding and downloading a will
Downloading a medal card

Research Guides

Alongside the search facilities, there are many other resources available to view on the site.

One of the most interesting areas is the Research, education and online exhibitions.


This is where all the reference material, research guides and online tutorials are collected together.

Research Guides A-Z

This is a listing of very detailed explanations of the various resources available on the site.

For each topic there is a great deal of background information as well as direct links to the types and references for the sources available and where they can be found.


Research Tools

This page will give you direct links to information about wills, WW1 records and other collections as well as some general information about using the site.

Any search from this page will search Documents Online


The National Archives have a series of podcasts on Family History, Military and Social History:

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