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April 14, 2009

How to Use the National Archives UK Website to Obtain Ancestor Documents

Using the National Archives UK website to find information on an ancestor is fairly straightforward. However, as I learned recently, the results you obtain using a search on their website are not always held at the National Archives but at a local English Archives. And the local English Archives websites can be confusing and frustrating to use, and are often very wordy!

Based on my own recent adventure finding and ordering records for my English ancestors James King & Hannah Blandon, I thought I'd share with you what I experienced and what the final outcome was.

Step 1: Go the National Archives UK Home Page Use the search engine at the top right of the page and type in your terms. I searched for my ancestor Hannah Blandon

Step 2: Two results showing, both for a Bastardy Case involving my ancestor James King and Hannah (who later married and had more children)

Step 3: I click on the top result and see the next screen showing that the examination took place in 1791 and the documents are not held at the National Archives. They are at the SUffolk Record Office, Ipswhich Branch

Step 4: I clicked on the link to the SUffolk Record Office, Ipswhich Branch and see a screen (still on National Archives site) providing details on their location and a website link.

Step 5: I click on the link to the Suffolk Co. Archives and am taken to their home page

Step 6: It isn't really very clear what I should do next but I opt for FAMILY HISTORY link (3rd choice down on the left) and am taken to a page that shows me more options. Again it is not clear what I should do next but I decide on COPYING SERVICES

Step 7: I'm at a very lengthy page full of information on their copying services, including several links to download pdf files for forms to fill out to request copies. Again it is not clear what form(s) I need, and although the website notes that payment must be made in advance, I cannot find a form that allows me to provide credit card details. I spend quite a bit of time searching, but end up more confused than ever. I think I need the form for copying a document but it is very long, lots of legal mumbo jumbo and still nowhere to put my credit card details! It also asks for a total I am paying but although I can find a price list, I have no idea how many pages or what size pages I am going to get so cannot calculate a final cost.

Step 8: After more than an hour of hunting around the website I decide the best course is to contact them and ask what I should do. So I click on the contact address at the bottom left and carefully compose a brief email. In my email I list the documents I want (I have actually found 3). I give their official looking number, their title and brief description plus date. I then ask which form I should use to request copies and I add that I live in Canada and must order these long-distance.

Step 9: About 10 days leater I receive a very polite email informing me that yes, the documents I want, can be copied and that my total cost plus shipping is xx pounds. The woman who writes also includes the 2 forms I need to fill out and mail to them. One is the request for copies of documents, the second is a credit card form for payment (which is not available online!)

I downloaded both forms to my computer and opened the first one, but a popup window came up telling me that I needed a password as the file is protected by the Suffolk Co. Archives. Great. The second form for my credit card information opened with no problem. Then I decided to try viewing the first document as an html file in my gmail account. That worked and although it wasn't pretty, I could see that the form they sent is the form online that I thought I needed when I first started this adventure! So all I needed do was go back to the website and download that form, no need to write back to the Suffolk Co. Archives and explain that I cannot open their password protected file.

It was at that point that I realized I actually had one more document I wanted copied. So I wrote back to the Suffolk Co. Archives (directly to the woman who replied to my first email) and asked for a recalculation based on my ordering one more document. Because the English are invariably so polite (and as a Canadian I've been acccused of being that way too) I made sure I thanked her for her time and trouble and apologized for requesting another document, thereby making more work for her.

She very kindly replied within a day with my new totals. I filled out the forms and mailed them off and now I am simply waiting with eager anticipation for the records of my ancestors to arrive.

In summary, it was confusing and time-consuming to figure out how to use the websites, but after I wandered around the site aimlessly for over an hour, I had no hesitation in writing to ask for help. Although it took quite a long time for a response the staff were very kind and helpful. So if you try this, remember the 3 "P's" and you won't go wrong - perserverance, patience and politeness

1 comment:

Pat Jeffs said...

Remember, that was Suffolk. Another county, another way of being (un)organized.
from the UK
Old Census Scribe