What to expect when researching

We are delighted to welcome researchers who use our reading rooms and our online services. We hold one of the largest and most significant archival collections in the world. Researching here can be immensely rewarding – however, it can sometimes also be very time-consuming. Here are some points to bear in mind:

  • We will always do our best to help you identify useful research paths to follow, but finding the information you want can mean that you will need to do significant amounts of speculative searching
  • We will help you with your research by showing you where in the collection to look, and how to use the tools that we provide, but we cannot do the searching for you
  • The documents we hold originate in central government departments and law courts and were created as working documents. They were not made with historical research in mind
  • Only about 5% of  government records are selected for permanent preservation, while others do not survive for a variety of reasons
  • We have made many of our most popular records more widely accessible by making them available online.  There is usually a charge to view and download digital records off site because of the costs associated with digitising documents
  • Everyone is welcome to visit us at our site in Kew, where you will have access free-of-charge to our collection.  Some kinds of research require the use of physical documents and can only be carried out on site. If you are unable to visit in person, you will need to pay for research
  • Please be aware that researching here will always involve using computers. We are happy to offer advice and guidance, but a basic level of computer knowledge is essential
  • You are welcome to make digital copies of records and email them to yourself for free. You can also choose to use our paid-for record copying service