A is for Access to Archives

27 Oct

Each week in the A to Z of English Genealogy I will focus on one particular aspect of English genealogy, starting this week with the letter A which stands for Access to Archives or A2A.

Access to Archives was originally a standalone website, but it is now integrated into The National Archives website, and can now be found at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/default.aspx.

Essentially A2A is a search engine for the catalogues of respositories in both England and Wales. According to the website the index contains “contains 10.3 million records relating to 9.45 million items held in 418 record offices and other repositories”. This is a great tool for locating archives that contain information about particular people and places, but it does have it’s limitations.

The index was last updated in April 2008 and no new records are going to be added to the site (although there was supposed to be the facility for the existing records to be updated). Despite being effectively frozen in time, it is still a useful tool because it is said to “contain about 30 per cent of catalogues of archival collections in England and Wales.”

Searching is pretty straightforward, and you are probably better off heading straight for the advanced search page (shown below), rather than the quick search because of the ability to apply various restrictions on the search.

The amount of information contained in each catalogue entry varies widely, sometimes very little information is returned, but sometimes it is almost as good as viewing the actual record itself. Take for example the entry below which mentions so many of my TROWER relations.

Many respositories now have their own catalogues online, so it is always worth visiting their website and carrying out a search, but A2A is a great way of getting an overview of where the records might be found in the first place, and of course provides a single straight-forward interface for accessing many different catalogues.

2 Responses to “A is for Access to Archives”

  1. mike October 27, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

    This already looks like it’s going to a helpful series of posts. Haven’t got to grips with A2A before but will give it another try.

    • John Gasson October 28, 2010 at 7:44 am #

      If the series helps just one person I will be happy. A2A is a very useful tool, you never quite know what you are going to find, so it is well worth getting to know it better.

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