How to look for records of... Foreign countries
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
This is a brief guide to researching records of foreign countries. Our records cover many different aspects of British government relations with foreign countries, from correspondence between diplomats to protocols of treaties.
This guide will help you to identify some key sources of information which will help you with your research.
What do I need to know before I start?
The National Archives holds records of England, Wales and the United Kingdom’s overseas relations dating back to the late 12th century.
The Foreign Office was formed in 1782 and merged into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1968.
Records of the Foreign Office’s Political Departments (FO 371) contain over 190,000 volumes which consist of over 16.5 million pages. They contain references to many well known figures from Laurence of Arabia to King Zog of Albania.
Most Foreign Office records fall into seven major categories
- General Correspondence
- Registers and Indexes
- Embassy and Consular Archives
- Confidential Print
- Private and Private Office Papers
- Archives of Commissions and Conferences
Letters were sometimes printed for circulation to government officials. This is called Confidential Print (but is no longer confidential). It can provide a valuable short-cut to finding the main correspondence on an issue.
Cabinet Papers (1916-1978)
Search and download British Cabinet Papers (£) discussing relationships with specific foreign countries.
Indexes to Foreign Office correspondence (1906-1919 and 1920–1953 and 1959)
Consult our guide to Foreign Office correspondence 1906-1919 for guidance on using the online card index to correspondence (FO 1111).
Refer to our guide to Foreign Office correspondence from 1920 onwards for detailed instructions on using the online index (FO 409) to correspondence for 1920-1953 and 1959.
Please note, not all documents listed in the indexes survive.
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
International relations (16th century onwards)
Search Discovery, our catalogue, for records of Britain’s relations with other countries in papers from the State Paper Office (SP) and Foreign Office (FO). To focus your search, use the name of the country or other relevant terms and specify collection SP or FO.
It is worth noting that from 1577 to 1906 the State Paper and Foreign Office records are arranged by country, e.g. SP 71 for Barbary States and SP 91 for Russia; FO 1 for Abyssinia and FO 22 for Denmark.
Foreign Office correspondence (1906-1966)
Search our catalogue for records of the Foreign Office’s Political Departments in FO 371. Many records are only catalogued by country.
For more detailed subject indexes to the correspondence use the online indexes FO 1111, 1906-1919, or FO 409, for 1920-1953 (see above).
Confidential Print (1711-1960)
Search our catalogue below by name of country for confidential print from the Foreign Office in FO 881. These documents consist of diplomatic reports, memoranda and correspondence originally produced for limited circulation within the British government. Further copies exist in other FO series
Records in other archives and organisations
Visit the websites of archives in the country of interest to find records of their government’s relations with Britain. Contact details for some national archives are available via Find an archive.
Consult Documents on British Policy Overseas (institutional subscription required) for key documents from the 20th century. The collections have also been published and should be available in many universities and a few public libraries.
Read ‘The Records of the Foreign Office, 1782–1968‘ by Michael Roper (Public Record Office Publications, 2002).
Read ‘Never Complain, Never Explain. Records of the Foreign Office and the State Paper Office 1500-c.1960′ by Louise Atherton (PRO Readers’ Guide No 7, 1994).
Read ‘Foreign Office Records, 1782 to 1986: An index to country series’ edited by James Cronan and Keith Mitchell (Lists and Index Society, 2017).
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