Archives: Collections of original images and manuscripts

This section covers all types of collection that may be of use in your research, whether they are topographical paintings in an art gallery or manuscripts in a record office or library. Archon gives locations in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Isles and Isle of Man with some web sites. Here's a checklist for beginners to help you make the most of your research time.

Step 1

Before visiting an archive, check whether it contains relevant material. The right preparation at this stage will save you much time and effort. The major archives have published catalogues or calendars which can be consulted in an academic library, and increasingly online. Some image databases are available online. (Details and links are in the guide to collections.) Note the catalogue references of the material you are interested in. You can often order several documents in advance.

There are several unified online catalogues:

Step 2

Check which language the records are written in. Even if you can read early scripts, you may need a dictionary. Medieval records throughout the British Isles are mainly in Latin. Norman French being the language of the English court after the Norman conquest, it was used in correspondence and legal proceedings until the 15th century, though Latin was used for official records. English legal records remained in Latin until 1733. Post-medieval documents were more often in the spoken language of the area - French or Jčrriais (Channel Isles), Gaelic (Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland), Scots or Welsh - until English became dominant. Cornish is an exception. Although it was spoken until the 18th century in Cornwall, it scarcely appears in records.

Step 3

Check whether the archive is open to the general public, or whether there are restrictions. In some cases you may need to fill in an application form in advance, or make an appointment. The major national archives and some local ones give opening hours and other useful information online.

Step 4

Once you enter an archive, you will need to abide by the archive code. Be prepared!