The records we hold

Find out about the records we hold, and what you can access.


The National Archives holds over 11 million records created by central government and the courts of law.

Some of the documents we hold are hundreds of years old, and coming from many government departments, they have been stored in lots of different places.

Over the years, some documents were lost or damaged by damp… fire… and even wartime bombing.

Government departments create records for their own day-to-day business needs. The departments that create the records keep them while they are in regular use.

Government legislation determines when records are passed to The National Archives for permanent preservation.

It's not practical to keep every document ever produced, and because it's difficult to assess which records will be important for future generations, each department discusses with us what needs to be preserved.

Only around 5% of Government records are finally chosen for permanent preservation.

You may not be able to see some of the records right away. They might contain personal details or information of importance to national security.

However, many records that were once closed, for example World War II secret agent details, court proceedings, and defence records, are now open for public inspection.

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How detailed is the catalogue?

Understand how to use catalogue descriptions.

How the records are arranged

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

Ordering documents

Find out how to copy, order and view the documents held by The National Archives and how to access popular records online.

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.