For most family historians with English ancestors at some point you will have to visit at least one County Record Office. So here are few tips if it will be your first time.
Plan your visit
Where is the record office?
This will be listed on the relevant county council web site. Remember county boundaries have changed over the centuries so you may need to confirm with a site like Genuki as to which record office you need. Some counties like Cumbria have more than one record office.
What records does the record office have?
There is no point travelling to the record office if it doesn’t have the records you need. This may include census records, parish registers, newspapers or other historical documents. Some of these may need to be requested in advance so check on the web site or telephone ahead.
The office may not be open 9-5 six days a week. This information should be on the web site too. It may be that you have to leave the building at lunch time if it closes. It may also be necessary to make an appointment if there is restricted space.
What should I take?
To join the County record office network (CARN) you need to bring along ID such as passport or driving licence. Once you have a card it makes access to all similar archives so much simpler.
Take a printout of the part of the family tree you are interested in for that visit. You may be able to take a laptop but check first. Have a list of what you are hoping to achieve – this may help you stop getting side tracked.
You will be restricted on using pencils in the research rooms. Take more than one and a good notebook to write down your discoveries. If you want printouts of what you find then you will need some cash to pay. Anything else will probably have to be left in a locker and mobiles set to silent/turned off.
In the record office
Don’t be afraid to ask
If it’s your first visit then ask the archivist for help on finding what you need to save time. They will also show you how to use micro film readers and point out the rules of use.
Start with your initial target and work your way through the records just looking at them. If anything else catches your eye note where you find it and come back later. Write down the source references so that you can double check at a later date if necessary.
Above all enjoy the records and finding out more about your ancestors.