Discovery help Understanding digital records

When we refer to digital records, we mean records that you can view on a computer screen, whether a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile phone screen. Digital records exist either because a digital version has been made of a paper record or because they were ‘born-digital’.

Many of the paper records at The National Archives have digital versions, such as Royal Navy service records or pre-1858 wills.

The paper versions were scanned and then those scanned images made available on our website.

This allows anyone with access to our website to view records online and, in most cases, download them to their computer, without having to come to our building in Kew, where we keep the original paper versions.

However, as time goes on an increasing number of records at The National Archives will be born-digital.

Born-digital records are records that were created originally in a digital format. They are mainly text-based documents such as word-processed documents, spreadsheets, presentation slides and emails but can also be videos, 3D models and photographs.