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.
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.
FamilySearch.org 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,
- Electoral register,
- Business and residential addresses,
- Passenger lists,
- Wills and probate,
- Land and properties,
- Civil and criminal justice,
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
- 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.
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.