How the records are arranged

Understand how records are arranged to help save you time and make your research more productive.


The National Archives is home to 1,000 years of government records and information created or collected by central government and the courts of law.

So, where do you start? Well, the documents in The National Archives are arranged by the government department or court that created them, and each department's documents have their own reference code.

For example, the personnel record of a First World War serviceman may be found among records created by the War Office or the Admiralty, but you may find other information about his life elsewhere. You may find out more about:
- the man and his family in the 1911 or earlier censuses
- his home and surroundings in the Valuation Office Survey
- his previous employment if he worked for a railway company
- skeletons in the cupboard through our legal records

So, information about the same event or person may have been recorded by several government departments for different purposes. If you want to find this information, you will need to search through the documents of each relevant department.

Doing this may give you unexpected pieces of information or a different view on the same subject.

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Understand how to use catalogue descriptions.

Ordering documents

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Preparing for your visit

Forward planning to help you get the most out of your visit.

Preparing to research

Find out where to look when you first start your research, and how to assemble and organise your findings to get better results.

Recording research results

Discover how to record all your results effectively so that you can find useful information again in the future.

Research routes

How to map out your research trail.

Starting your research

Where to go to find the information you need.

The life of a document

Discover more about the journeys our documents have made before reaching The National Archives and how they may be useful for many different types of research today.