Using your Local Archive Office to Research your Family Tree

Local ArchiveLocal Archives Offices contain an enormous amount of information including Census records, newspapers and property records. They are a useful point of call when either verifying information found on the internet or conducting deeper research beyond what is available on the main sources of family history such as the IGI or Census online.

To access the Local Archives offices you need to find out which one is closest to you or whether you need to access an office near where your ancestors lived. You should work this out by utilising the primary sources (referred to above) first of all to plot out a rough guide indicating the area in which your ancestors lived. Once you have done this you can look at the offices. The addresses for these may come up if you do a search on 'Local Archives Offices' or you could also look on the local council website as these often include a link.

To use the resources in the Local Archives you will need a Reader Card which you can apply for. You can also apply for a CARN card (County Archives Research Network) which will give you access to a whole group of counties which have already updated and joined this network. However, the Reader Card, which is still used by a few counties: is only for use at that particular office. Once you have your card you can visit your local office but you will need to take a few other items along with you such as some separate ID and two passport size photographs. The ID that is accepted includes passports, driving licenses and credit cards. In addition to this you should bring some plain paper and pencils. You will not be allowed to use biros or other ink pens as they could permanently mark records. You may also want to check when you can book in a slot and what materials are allowed as security is very strict. Some of the resources are now considered valuable documents which are worth a lot of money. Book as much in advance as possible and use the time effectively- plan what you are doing before you go. The recent interest in genealogy has made the Local Archives very popular and you will need to maximise on the time allocated.

One way in which to do this is by looking up what your local office has in terms of resources. Some offices have resources which you can either access online or at your library. These resources are usually ideal for creating a family tree as they include transcriptions and digitised records. It is a good idea to exhaust these resources before looking in the records office itself as you will simply waste your own time. Online resources are also useful to check out as they will often include useful links and may allow you to access some shared or pooled resources. They may also offer free access or reduced costs to some resources that other websites charge for.

Local Archives Offices vary in both type and content. Quite a few of their resources depends on local interest and contribution. The offices often invite contribution which can be very fruitful if many genealogists, history societies and enthusiasts live in the local area.

Donated resources include items such as maps, photographs, paintings, antiques, shop itineraries, local history journals, old diaries and letters. These kinds of sources are best looked at when others fail, when creating a family tree as you will have to do quite a bit of reading to find vital data required for family trees. Items like photographs may well be copied and be with other more official resources.

Official records are a very good source of information for family trees. You should check a map for the local area beforehand in case there are any indicatory clues for the records you want. Also check for former building uses including prisons and hospitals as many of these types of record are held locally. You could also check shipping records for places near to the sea. The offices also have local directories which give business addresses, names and trades from as early as 1700 which could enable people to track down individual family members or verify Census records. Other useful local records include voter records although you would have to check, depending on your ancestors status and occupation whether they might have been entitled to a vote. Pedigree charts (similar to family trees) are also a good resource to look at as the poor rates which were administrated on a local basis by the Church. Registrars can give you copies for a few pounds of most of the documents in the offices.

Next: Using online resources to research your family tree