Discovery, our catalogue

Use these pages for guidance on:

What is Discovery?

Discovery is The National Archives' catalogue. It lists records relating to Britain and British history, some of which date back centuries, others of which are quite recent, held at:

  • The National Archives
  • archives and institutions across the UK
  • some archives and institutions abroad

It also provides contact details for these archives and institutions. 

See our 'Start here' pages to find out more about archives and for advice on how to use them. Understanding these things will help you to work your way around Discovery.

Find out about our latest developments in Discovery. If you are a developer wanting to use the Discovery API please see our guidance on GitHub.

What can I use Discovery for?

Use Discovery to search for records held by The National Archives and around 2,500 archives and institutions across the United Kingdom as well as a much smaller number of archives around the world.

The information in Discovery is made up of record descriptions provided by or derived from the catalogues of the different archives. Although some of The National Archives records have been digitised and can be read online, Discovery can't search the words within them - only their description and title.

That means that if information such as somebody's name is in the content of a record but not in its description or title, then searching for that name won't find that record.

When you search Discovery you will get a list of records and record creators that match your search criteria. These search results will also show which archive holds the individual records.

You may have started your search on The National Archives website, but you could end up looking at descriptions of records held anywhere in the UK or even abroad. Take care to check where records are held and to contact the relevant archive if you want to find out how to see them.


Where your search results show records held by The National Archives, Discovery will show if the record is available to download (usually for a fee) or whether you need to come to Kew to view the original record or a microfilm or fiche copy.

If you are looking for manorial documents, read the section on Accessing the records of the Manorial Documents Register (MDR).

If you are looking for information about an archives service, including contact and access information you can use the Find an Archive tool which is on the Discovery home page.