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Forces War Records Blog

THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES: A MUST FOR GENEALOGISTS!

Blogger: GemSen Forces War Records managed to get out of the office this week to visit The National Archives in Kew, London.
 
And, I don’t know whether you’ve been, but it’s a pretty impressive place and a must see for anybody interested in genealogy. It was the first time that I had visited and it was a great experience — to handle and read original documents from nearly 100 years ago was a real privilege. I started off researching a WWI German spy called Albert Meyer who was shot by the firing squad, at the tower of London, in 1915 (keep an eye on our blog for a feature on this). I was enthralled as I poured over the historic documents detailing the accounts and correspondence surrounding his execution. Fascinating. My colleagues were all equally as captivated with their own finds - but we couldn't make a song and dance about our discoveries though because silence is golden at The National Archives. Some of the documents The National Archives hold are hundreds of years old, come from government departments, and have been stored in lots of different places. Among the documents they hold are papers and records from the Central Courts of Law from the 12th century onwards, medieval records, maps and plans, wills, criminal records, Foreign and Colonial Office correspondence and files, cabinet papers and Home Office records, statistics of the Board of Trade and service and operational records of the Armed Forces. It’s almost like 'information overload' once you start delving into the treasures at The National Archives which holds over 1,000 years of the nation’s records. I didn’t have nearly enough time to look at everything I wanted to. In fact, I only got to look at half of the things on my list. Another trip is  imminent... One of the largest collections in the world... The National Archives’ collection is one of the largest in the world and as the government’s national archive for England, Wales and the United Kingdom. There are over 11 million records created by central government and the courts of law — if you’re visiting for the first time it can be a little daunting. The key is doing some background research before you go. It is best to look at The National Archives website first and plan exactly which records you wish to view – making a note of the reference numbers. Sometimes you may have to wait up to 40 minutes to view the documents, so it pays to order your documents as early as possible — this will keep you supplied with a steady flow of documents if you have a few to get through. You can order up to three original documents at a time and then you can order documents from any of the computers in the reading rooms. To order a document you need to know its catalogue reference — found by searching or browsing our catalogue. The catalogue reference is made up of a series of letters (representing the government department the file has come from) and numbers. For example, WO 95/456. When you arrive if you want to consult original documents like we did you will need to apply for a National Archives Readers Ticket – providing you bring with you a couple of forms of ID: one to prove your name, the other to prove your address. This is to protect access to the valuable collection of materials. One of our team already had a National Archives Readers Ticket so was able to pre-order some things which was handy — for this you'll need the document reference, and a valid National Archives Readers Ticket, though. Over the years, some documents were lost or damaged by damp, fire and even wartime bombing. Government legislation determines when records are passed to The National Archives for permanent preservation. It's not practical to keep every document ever produced, and because it's difficult to assess which records will be important for future generations, each department discusses with us what needs to be preserved. Astonishingly, only around 5 per cent of Government records are finally chosen for permanent preservation. We're already planning our next trip to Kew — The National Archives is an essential place to visit for genealogists and those interested in history, alike. Why not log on to Forces War Records and search our vast collection of records to find out more about your own ancestors  – there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered and remembered… Source: The National Archives
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