This is a round-up of online genealogy resources in archives in Britain. If you can’t visit an archive, you may be able to find a record online, or something else that’s useful. I’ve mostly only included records available on the archives own websites. Most of these resources are free to access. However, a couple are pay per view, like Essex parish registers and Scotland’s People.
English online genealogy resources in archives
First a look at the national repositories.
The National Archives (TNA) in London hold records that go back 1000 years. These records cover the armed forces, the courts and prisons, foreign and colonial history, the medieval period and many other topics.
About five percent TNA’s records have been digitized and are online. You can find a complete list of these records here. Some of these online records can only be accessed on other database sites like Findmypast and Ancestry. The other records (listed here) can be downloaded directly from the TNA site.
There is normally a charge to access most of these records. However, at the moment, and during this pandemic, the charge has been waived and documents can be downloaded for free.
You’ll need to register an account to view the records. More information as well as a link for account set up can be found here.
The following are most of the National Archives collections that can be viewed online for free. Click on the link to read the research guide for the collection and access the records (once you’ve signed in):
- Aliens’ registration cards 1918-1957
- British Army medal index cards 1914-1920
- British Army nurses’ service records 1914-1918
- British Army war diaries 1914-1922
- Country court death duty registers 1796-1811
- Domesday Book
- Durham Home Guard 1939-1945
- Famous wills 1552-1854
- Various digital microfilm records (see guide for full list)
- French muster rolls from the Battle of Trafalgar 1805
- Household Cavalry soldiers’ service records 1799-1920
- Irish maps c.1558-c.1610
- Merchant seamen’s campaign medal records 1914-1918
- Merchant seamen’s campaign medal records 1939-1945
- Merchant shipping movement cards 1939-1945
- Middlesex military service appeal tribunal 1916-1918
- Naturalisation case papers 1801-1871
- Prisoner of war interview reports 1914-1918
- Recommendations for military honours and awards 1935-1990
- Royal Air Force officers’ service records 1918-1919
- Royal Flying Corps airmen
- Royal Marines’ service records 1842-1925
- Royal Naval Air Service officers
- Royal Naval Air Service officers’ service records 1906-1918
- Royal Naval Air Service ratings
- Royal Naval Division service records 1914-1919
- Royal Naval Reserve officers’ service records 1862-1964
- Royal Naval Reserve service records 1860-1955
- Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve service records 1903-1922
- Royal Navy officers’ service record cards and files c.1840-c.1920
- Royal Navy officers’ service records 1756-1931
- Royal Navy ratings’ service records 1853-1928
- Royal Navy unpaid pensions 1830-1860: claims by next of kin
- Victoria Cross registers 1856-1944
- Victorian prisoners’ photograph albums 1872-1873
- Wills 1384-1858
- Wills of Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel 1786-1882
- Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps service records 1917-1920
- Women’s Royal Air Force service records 1918-1920
- Women’s Royal Naval Service personnel
- Women’s Royal Naval service records 1917-1919
The British Library in London has about 30,000 items (mostly maps and books) that can be viewed online. Visit the Online Gallery here.
Several counties in England have online resources:
Bedfordshire Archives hosts transcripts of the surviving records from the Bedford Gaol and House of Correction 1770-1904
Buckinghamshire Archives has a few online resources, including:
- Some local trade directories indexes. These are from Kelly’s Directories of 1792, 1798, 1811, 1824 and 1832.
- A collection over 20,000 Historic photographs of Buckinghamshire.
- An interactive map to track where bombs fell on the county during World War Two.
- A database of prisoners held in Aylesbury Gaol in the 1870s.
You’ll find Tithe Maps on the Cheshire Archives website. These are early 19th century maps used to determine the rentable value of land and property. See my post on English and Welsh tithe records for more information on this resource.
The website also hosts the Cheshire Image Bank.
Kresen Kernow is the home of Cornwall’s Archives. You can browse historic images of the county on their website.
The Derbyshire Record Office website is the portal to the following resources:
- Selected historical maps of the Derwent Valley area
- Historical photographs
- Prisoner Records 1729-1913
Essex Record Office’s entire collection of parish registers have been digitized and can be accessed on their website. You will need to buy a subscription to view them. The records are not indexed. However, there are partial indexes on the free sites Family Search and FreeReg. There are fuller indexes on the subscription sites Findmypast and Ancestry
The Herefordshire Archives website hosts the following online indexes:
- Wills index
- Herefordshire prison register index, 1849 -1915
- WW1 Herefordshire war graves and war memorials
Lancashire Archives has an online collection of historic photos of Lancashire
You can view historic photos from the Leicestershire Record Office on the Image Leicestershire website.
Historic parish maps can be viewed on the Norfolk Record Office website.
The Oxfordshire History website has digitized maps from the archives, including tithe maps, 1910 valuation maps as well as other historical maps.
The Staffordshire Archives site hosts a Name Index, taken from various collections from 1600 – 1961.
The Surrey History Centre hosts a number of indexes from a range of collections including Poor Law vaccination records and various military records.
The Keep in Brighton is the home of the East Sussex Record Office as well as the archives of Brighton and Hove City Council and the University of Sussex. Tithe maps for the area can be accessed on the website.
You’ll find a collection of historical images on the West Sussex Record Office website
Warwickshire County Record Office hosts the following online collections:
Yorkshire East Riding
Historical Maps can be found on the East Riding Archives site.
Welsh online genealogy resources in archives
National Library of Wales
The National Library of Wales, based in Aberystwyth, is the legal deposit library for Wales. The NLW has substantial online resources, including:
The Powys Archives website is the portal to some digitized content. For a list, visit the Digitized Records page.
The Archifdy Ceredigion Archives website has a number of pages containing digitized images of documents. Visit this page for a list and links.
North East Wales
The North East Wales Archives website hosts a number of digital resources including enclosure maps, historical photographs and tithe maps. You will need to register to view. Visit the “What’s online” page for more information.
Scottish online genealogy resources in archives
I couldn’t find any online records in the Scottish county archives. However, the national repositories have some great digital resources.
National Library of Scotland
The National Library of Scotland (NLS) has a number of very useful online resources:
- NLS Internet Archive Page : an extremely useful collection of books, manuscripts, maps, directories, military lists, family histories etc. relating to Scotland.
- NLS Scottish Post Office Directories: over 700 digitized post office directories from 1773 to 1911.
- NLS Maps Page: another great free NLS resource. Here you’ll find a huge collection of digitized Scottish maps from the 1500s to the 1900s. For more on this resource see: How to find free historical UK maps online
National Records of Scotland
The most well known NRS resource is probably Scotland’s People. This pay per view site allows you to download historical vital records, census returns, wills and other documents. For more on SP, see my earlier post.
Another NRS resource, this time free, is Scotland’s Places. Here you’ll find early Scottish tax records. These include Carriage tax rolls (1785-1798), Cart tax rolls (1785-1798), Clock and watch tax rolls (1797-1798), Dog tax rolls (1797-1798) and many more.
For more on this useful resource see: Free Scottish Genealogy on ScotlandsPlaces
Some other NRS historical records can also be accessed on the Scottish Archive Network website.
I hope you find some of these resources useful.
For further reading, you may find these books useful:
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I would love to be part of the Genealogy community
Hi Frans, you can find links to many worldwide genealogy research groups and communities on this Family Search page: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/FamilySearch_Genealogy_Research_Groups .
You can also download a pdf with a huge list of links to genealogy Facebook groups on Katherine R Willson’s blog here: https://socialmediagenealogy.com/genealogy-on-facebook-list/