Oh my goodness this place is stunning!
You arrive and park easily you walk towards the Archives and you are faced with a stunning building.
The place is a little confusing for the first time visitor and guess what you have to do an exam before you get your readers ticket - just to be sure you know how to work with the records the correct way.
Then you have your photo taken to go on the readers ticket - I wish I had warn makeup ...the ticket lasts for 3 years.
Then up in the research room you are faced with 100's of computers with which you can access the records.
This place is truly amazing - I am used to the Archives in Ireland. Ireland has a lot to learn ....although we most likely do not have the budget.
As an aside the restaurant area is split between a quick bite area and a much larger area for a more substantial meal.
The book shop I could have spent hours in quite happily and yes I spent a fortune. Thank goodness the lovely man behind the till was able to reduce my pile of research books to less than the cost of a gold mine.
I want to go again ...after all I have my readers ticket.
Anyone tracing their family tree will, at some point or other, have to dip into the National Archive. There are two main sites in London: the Family Records Centre in Clerkenwell covers the Census returns (1841-1901) and indexes of Births, Marriages and Deaths, as well as some other documents, such as Wills and Probate records.
For everything else, you will have to come to the main site in Kew. Housed in an enormous modern building, set amongst attractive gardens and small ponds, it's a very pleasant venue (and, for modern architecture, not half bad).
The contents are formidable, and include:
- Papers from the Central Courts of Law from the 12th century onwards
- Medieval records of central and local government
- An impressive collection of maps and plans
- Records of wills, naturalisation certificates and criminal records
- Service and operational records of the Armed Forces
- Foreign and Colonial Office correspondence and files
- Cabinet papers and Home Office records
- Statistics of the Board of Trade
- Other historic documents relating to a wide range of industry (mostly those which were nationalised at some point).
Using the facility is a little intimidating: you are strongly advised to look at their web-site first. (The motto here is to plan ahead, in all respects.) You have to have a National Archives Readers Ticket made up on your first visit, so you will need to bring with you various forms of ID. This is to protect access to what is an incredibly valuable collection of materials.
Once inside, you can only take paper and pencils in with you, in clear plastic wallets. To facilitate this, there's a large cloakroom with lockers for clothes and bags, as well as a small cafe, restaurant and shop, just through the main foyer. You have to sign in and out each time you enter the main records area. The staff here can be a little officious, but the Archive staff are generally very helpful indeed.
There are plenty of staff at the help-desks to get you started, although - as with all such searches - it pays to do as much homework as you can online and from more accessible documents first. (There is a free and comprehensive, although rather complicated, search tool for their entire archive on-line - accessed through their web-site).
If you want to see original documents, you may have to wait for up to 40 minutes, so it is worth getting going quickly and ordering the first documents as soon as you can, aiming to keep up a steady flow of requests (assuming you want to order that many!) through the day.
An alternative is to order documents in advance, by e-mail or post (not by phone) but for this you'll need the document reference, and a valid National Archives Readers Ticket. (CARN tickets from the County Archives Research Network are NOT valid). Ordering in advance is also essential for any records held off-site.
Indeed, waiting is part of the process here, so bring something with you to read, if you are liable (like me) to want to see the originals of records. You will also have to wait to photocopy them, as fragile documents need special handling. It pays to be patient, and leave plenty of time - plan on spending at least half a day here for any specific search.
Most people are looking for military records, and these are arranged in a separate room, and are generally easier and quicker to access. I was looking for some of these, but also the employment records of several Great and Great-Great Grandfathers who worked on the railways in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was amazing - and a privelege - to handle such documents, and see their signatures.
Getting there if fairly easy: there are several local bus routes passing by the front entrance, although most arrive by train or underground to Kew Gardens Station, from which it is a ten minute walk (leave the station in the opposite direction than for Kew Gardens). The site has 116 parking spaces for cars, (not bookable, so first come, first served) as well as provision for motorbikes and for disabled visitors. Parking in the surrounding streets is limited. Disabled access within the building is generally very good, and if you need special help, they have a named contact to get in touch with, to help plan your visit (details on the web-site).
NB: Building work is currently underway, due for completion in late Spring 2008. This will reduce seating capacity, as well as lengthening document retrieval times.
The National Archives at Kew are probably best reached using public transport by taking the district line and getting off at Kew, or maybe better using British Rail and getting off at Kew Bridge. Neither are that close so you will probably end up walking for 15 to 20 minutes to get there.
Having said that it does seem to be the case that anyone researching their family history is likely to visit the National archives at some point or other. For a description of the practicalities is probably best to read some of the other reviews as necessary points are well covered there.
The National Archives Museum has recently been redesigned and is situated on the ground floor of TNA, near to the cafe and the bookshop. It offers a great insight into the treasures held at the archive, including records like the Domesday Book and a copy of the Declaration of Independence, which often in turn record some momentous events in British, and world, history. Alongside these documents there are also some examples of ordinary documents which tell extraordinary stories, such as Charles Dickens will, where he left £1000 to his mistress, and some early moving pictures. Try and visit here, if you can, when you come to the archive.
The Family Records Centre in Myddleton Street, London is no longer open, all their material and services have gone over to The National Archives in Kew. It doesn't actually take that long to get there, going from Hammersmith takes only 11 minutes or so, not too bad at all!
Things have changed a little since DJM's review in Feb 2008.
The National Archives Readers Ticket is invaluable: you use it to enter and exit records areas by swiping it at the gates. When you use the computers on the first floor area to look at records you can print these with the help of your trusty Readers Ticket, tremendously useful!
The documents are within the 'Documents Online' section of the TNA website/catalogue, - records like e.g. PCC wills or census forms. It is free to just bring them up on-screen (on-site at Kew. You have to pay to download them at home) so you could just take as many notes as you like while you're there. The print-outs are not expensive: one A3 page costs 20p and you swipe your National Archives Readers Ticket through to order your prints at your workstation and then again at the printer for it to spit out the hard copies. Just make sure you don't print the cover page as well!
You can pay for prints without the Ticket but this is much more cumbersome and I couldn't be bothered.
You can pre-register via the website and then register that little bit quicker when you get to Kew. The pic for the Readers Ticket gets taken by a webcam, so give your hair a pat before you sit down!
The second floor area is very strict about what you can take in. You can lock your notes up in the little cubbyhole lockers outside the entrance to the floor.
If you should be stuck for something to do while you await your document delivery, then there are quite a few leaflets to browse through: research aids and guides to what's where at Kew. It could mean a pointer in a direction you hadn't considered before!?
Or you can retreat to the ground floor: I really like the cafe and restaurant area there, - I just wish they were still open for a good, long while after the Archive shuts! Just so you could relax after a hard day's work! That's probably just me
The coffee is pretty good, and the leather seats exceedingly comfy!
There is also a bookshop and a museum too that I haven't checked out yet. Maybe next time!
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