Plan a Visit to the Archives

By | August 31, 2016

Do you want to do more with your genealogy research? Well then you will need to plan a visit to the archives where your ancestor lived to find out more. The archives or public record office will hold an array of certificates and documents about your ancestors. Before you go to an archive though there are a number of considerations for you to make the most out of your visit.

Visit to the Archives

The What To Do At The Archives article will discuss further what you can expect at the archives. This post though will concentrate on what you need to do before you actually visit an archive center. offers an interactive map where you can find a family history center. This is a worldwide map so chances are that you will find a center near where your ancestor lived and worked.

What records are available at the archives?

There are many different types of certificates and documents available to you. They can range from a birth certificate to a passenger list. The type of record that you will find will have varying amounts of details concerning your ancestor. So you might find their date of birth, their address, their occupation or how they emigrated to America.

Here are just some of the records that you will find at the archives:

  • Birth, death and marriage certificates,Certificate
  • Electoral register,
  • Business and residential addresses,
  • Passenger lists,
  • Military,
  • Wills and probate,
  • Land and properties,
  • Civil and criminal justice,
  • Education,
  • Mental health.

First check the online catalogue

Before you get to the archives you may be able to check the archives online catalogue. Here you will be able to view and pre-order records. This will save you time as you will not have to wait for a staff member to find what you are after.

Online Catalogue

You can order copies of records and have them posted to you instead of visiting the archives. Be aware though that this generally costs more than photocopying the record yourself at the archives. But this can save you time if you live far away from the archives.

Genealogy is a hobby where you will not only be spending time but money as well. So any saving such as downloading records will obviously save you much needed time and money that you could otherwise better spend on your research.

Some records though have some restrictions so you will not be allowed to copy them. A visit to the archives to view these records is your best option in these circumstances.

This visit though will give you the chance to explore where your ancestors lived. So you could make the most of the time by visiting where your ancestors worked, where theymarried and where they were buried.

Contact the archives

You will be able to find contact details for the archive you want to visit on their website. The archive’s address, phone number, opening hours and directions will all be listed.

Telephone Interview

It is important to contact the archives before your visit as some records may be security classified. Advanced notice will therefore need to be made. You can let staff know which records you are after and when you intend to visit. Some records are stored off-site due to space constraints so for this reason it is well worth contacting the archives.

If you are contacting the archives by email then it is best to leave your postal address and phone number. It is a good idea to give the archive different ways that they can contact you. For example, maybe your Internet service is down or you can’t get to a computer for some reason.

What are the opening hours?

Before you visit an archive it is well worth noting when are the opening hours. It is no point turning up at an archive only to find out that they only open for half the day, or maybe they are closed that day. Some record offices may charge an entrance fee.

Open Hours

Archives may be open during weekends or during the evenings. So it is worth checking if this is the case with the archive that you are planning to visit.

But do note that professional archive staff may not be present for these times. Also, some services like photocopying may not be available to you as well.

It is a good idea to allow for extra time for your visit. There are always unexpected discoveries that will peak your interest. Also, some documents may be hard to read so these will take time to decipher.

To boneset though I have often been caught out with lack of time. You will be surprised with the direction that your family history research will take. One moment you are checking records about one ancestor and then you are tracing back their paternal and maternal lines.

Where are you travelling from?

Travelling directions will be available on the archives website that you intend to visit. You may be travelling by bus, car, bicycle, motorbike, train, or even by foot. Directions for all of these modes of transport will usually be given. There may also be a car park next to or near to the archives. Charges for the use of the car park may be given as well.

Where are you travelling from?

If you are travelling from afar the archives website may list nearby accommodations that you can stay at. This will be useful to you as you will obviously have to stay overnight at least.

You may even need to make a number of visits to the archive during your stay. Sometimes after a visit you need to digest what you have found and then go back for more. So it is worth considering half a week’s stay or maybe even longer.

If the archives does not list any accommodation then you will have to conduct this research yourself. Google can be your friend in this case.

When you arrive at the archives

Depending on which archives you intend to visit you will need either a reader’s ticket or a researcher identification card. To be granted access to the materials you will usually need to provide two forms of identification.


The forms of identification that you may need to provide are:

  • A previous reader’s ticket,
  • Passport,
  • Driving license,
  • Bank card or statement,
  • Utility bill,
  • National ID card.

There maybe other forms of identification that you can provide on your visit. So it is worth checking with the archives what you can bring along to prove who you are.

Any of these papers, documents or cards will need to show a current address that has been issued within the past six months. So make sure that they are up to date or you will be heartbroken that your visit to the archive was in vain.

Disabled access and services

It is advisable to check first whether wheelchair access and what services are available to you before your visit. Many record offices will offer assistance to the disabled researcher. They may also offer a wheelchair to borrow. Assistance dogs may be granted access to the archives. But it is worth checking first.

Disabled Access and Services

If you are partially sighted then reading aids maybe available to you, such as magnify glasses and sheet magnifiers. Braille versions of records will most likely not be available so you may wish to bring someone with you who can help you.

There maybe accessible computers for you to use that have a large mouse and keyboard. You may also ask for assistance with these from a staff member.

Some archive centers may have a staff member on duty who can sign. It is worth checking before your visit when this person will be available. The archives may also provide induction loop systems.

If there is a cafe or restaurant then please check whether they do offer wheelchair access. Chances are they will, but it is always best to check first. The same applies to toilet facilities.

What other services do they offer?

Some record offices do have a cafe or restaurant. You can break up your visit to the archives by going to the cafe for something to eat and drink. Sometimes researching for long hours can make you feel drained.


So you can take a break for a while. When you come back to researching you will feel refreshed.

Please note that you will not be allowed to bring in any food or drinks into the archives.

Photocopiers will also be available so that once you have found the records that you are after you maybe allowed to make a copy. This will obviously incur a fee, as well as requesting scans of photos and microfilms, and copies of video and audio recordings.

The archives that you intend to visit may offer Internet access. You may also be able to bring your own laptop computer. If so you will need to enquire how to access the Internet from your device.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post about how to plan a visit to the archives. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

20 thoughts on “Plan a Visit to the Archives

  1. Jessi

    This is such a well-organized and prepared guide for whenever I want to visit the archives. And apparently, thanks for reminding me that I always need to contact them first because sometimes I forget when being too busy. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Owain Post author

      You’re quite welcome. It is important to do things right whenever you are doing your genealogy research. And going to the archives is no different.

  2. Farhan

    These are great tips, especially to people who are completely new to this. I guess the most convenient method is to just go online and see if the relevant archives are available.

    It would be a pain to have to drive down for miles and look for physical archives that may not even exist. I also agree with your point of giving enough time for us to decipher various articles.

    Great post!

    1. Owain Post author

      Those two tips are particularly useful. As you say you do not want to drive for miles and find that you can’t find what you are looking for. As it isn’t there in the first place.

      Also, I have found while doing my own research that it always takes longer than you expect. You will always find something unexpected that will take you off on a new branch.

      I am planning on a follow up to this post which will cover more about what to do once you are at the archives

  3. Amanda

    These are some great tips especially calling first. I went on a trip with my dad to his home town, and had planned to visit the library there. Unfortunately I did not check before hand, and they were closed the day I went. I may have been able to adjust my plans if I knew this ahead of time. I found out later that there was a family bible from my family there that I may have been able to see. I’ll just have to make another trip!

    1. Owain Post author

      Isn’t it always the same. You intend to go somewhere only for them to be closed, or a section not open on the day for you. I am glad that this tip was of use to you.

      Take care and all the best with your family history research.

  4. Cat Pillar

    I am most impressed by the level of service these archives provide to people visiting to discover their own history.
    Wheelchair access, braille, sign language just for starters… then a restaurant because this must be engrossing stuff and one will be starving before one’s half way thru all that stuff.

    Good to know that they’ll post for people far away too – I know a coupla folk who might be really interested in that – what country are you referring to? (That might matter.)

    1. Owain Post author

      The archives will provide many services. It also depends on the size and how many people use the archives. So obviously the bigger the archives then the more services that they can offer.

      I have tried to provide a general guide for any country. Obviously you will need to contact the archives and see what the services and facilities they can offer. Hope this helps.

  5. Jenna

    Yes, visiting the archives is a great idea, how come I never thought of that? The details and considerations to make preparations in this post are really helpful. We do not do something without further planning and research. Probably I can start looking up an archive nearby to do my genealogy scrapbook project!

    1. Owain Post author

      There are many resources available to the genealogist and this is just one of them. However you need to plan this well so that you get the most out of it

  6. Richard

    Your genealogy web site has a wealth of information and tips on how to trace the family tree. Everyone should have a record of their family tree but I guess they don’t know how to go about it. I am trying to get my family tree together and will have to resource the archives from four different countries. It will be exciting to see whatI come up with.
    Thanks for sharing

  7. Deena C

    Thanks for sharing the tip on doing the search and requesting the documents online first to save time, I didn’t realize that was an option. You mentioned that photocopy costs might be involved. What’s your take on taking a photo with your smart phone? Is that another way to cut costs? Are photographs allowed?

    1. Owain Post author

      It is always a good option to check first if you can get the material online first. Definitely check if you are allowed to take photos of what you need. That would cut down the costs. If you can’t take a photo then you will have to transcribe the material

  8. jschicanha

    I have been wondering where my great grand parents came from. Today, when I came across your publication, I quickly followed your easy steps to see if I can locate my grand parents, Amazing news just to discover that my grand parents came from a country called Angola in Africa, in a town called Andulu in the Bie province. This is a very great online resource that has brought happiness to my heart and I’m even playing to travel to that country to see if I will find the village and the people still living there.

    I thank you for the time you took to research such important information and share it with the whole world.

    Please keep me informed on any further developments or updates on this.


    1. Owain Post author

      That is absolutely great news. I am so glad to hear it and that I could be of assistance. I wish you all the best with your travels. I hope that it is a successful trip for you.



  9. Mara

    Some great pointers here! I have recently been tracing my ancestry in Scotland, although I tend to do more over the winter months. It’s coming up for that time again, and I’m at the stage where I want to take a look at some of the old parish records to help with what I’ve already found online. Have you traced your family history? And if so, how far back have you managed to get? One thing I have noticed is the further back in time you go, the harder it is to decipher some of the writing! I will definitely take on board some of your tips before I get in the car and go visiting these archive centers.

    1. Owain Post author

      Yes I have traced my family tree and have gone back to the mid 1700s on a few branches. You are right about deciphering the writing. This is particularly true with Census records. If you check these through genealogy sites be sure to check the images against the transcriptions. The transcribers may not be familiar with the area and and also thefamily so errors are bound to creep in.

      All the best with your research.

  10. marc

    Thanks for your post on planning a visit to genealogy archives. I agree with you that it really needs to be planned. The thing that I am surprised about is that not all of this information is available online. I would think they would be slowly converting it to digital format and putting it online to be more accessible to everyone. Do you see that happening in the near future?

    1. Owain Post author

      I am not too sure whether all the records and documents at an archive will be made available online. Some are delicate and so there are costs involved to bring them to the online world. Whether an archive can afford it is another matter. Also, it may take time for this information to be put online. So rather than wait it may be a good idea to visit an archive instead. But as the post suggests it is best to plan your visit first so you get the most from it.

      My What To Do At The Archives article will also be of use to you


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