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Finding Archives: Online portals

Guide to searching for archival material

“Google is not a synonym for research”

Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol 

Searching online - where not to start

Whilst using a Google search to try and find material might bring up references to particular subjects, it is unlikely to find specific archival sources.

A better place to start is a number of dedicated portals which allow you to search for collections held by archive repositories across the UK.


What are online portals?

Simply put, archives portals are online search engines which bring together data relating to the holdings of multiple archive repositories.

They are created to provide a single point of entry to data from multiple databases. As such, they facilitate researchers looking for archive material held across vast geographical and virtual spaces.

The data behind portals is descriptive, as such, searches return descriptions of existing material rather than images of the material. Whilst some portals use images to illustrate or to create small online exhibitions and additional resources, you will still have to visit individual repositories to see the archive material described in any search results.

Reading the notes and guidance produced by individual portals provides useful pointers on how best to conduct searches. This guidance will also help you understand what categories of records are included in the portal's remit.


Key archives portals

There are two key archives portals to use if you are looking for archive material held in repositories across the UK.

Use the tabs below to find out more about each.

The National Archives Discovery

The main national portal for locating information about records held at The National Archives and other archival repositories in the UK (including those in Scotland).

The record entries in Discovery are taken from data sent by individual archive repositories.

Some repositories send only collection level descriptions of the material they hold and so it is not always possible to find individual items using Discovery. However, this can be a good way of ascertaining whether there are any significant bodies of material held in the UK which relate to a specific individual, group, or organisation. Further detail is usually available directly from individual repositories, which are linked to from entries in Discovery.

Search Discovery

TNA Discovery Search

Archives Hub

A major portal, formed to bring together information about archives held across many of the UK’s universities and colleges (including those in Scotland). Since it was established, Archives Hub has expanded to incorporate information relating to collections held by other types of UK repositories.

Individual collections data returned via Archives Hub is usually more comprehensive than that returned via Discovery, and the search features can be easier to use on Archives Hub. Whilst less repositories currently contribute data to Archives Hub than do to Discovery, more is added every year and major development work is regularly undertaken to support enhanced searching and content.

Search Archives Hub

Archives Hub Search


Further archives portals

The following list contains a number of additional archive portals that can be helpful when searching for records held in specific geographical areas, or on particular subject themes.

SCAN

The main portal for discovering archives held in Scottish repositories. It does not include material held elsewhere in the UK. If you are only interested in material held within Scotland then this is a better place to start than Discovery as searches will not return material held elsewhere in the UK.

The National Register of Archives for Scotland

Contains surveys of material still in private hands, and private papers which have been deposited in libraries and museums. This is a good last resort if you cannot locate the papers of a particular Scottish individual or organisation by using SCAN.

Irish Archives Resource

Allows you to search for material held in archive repositories across the island of Ireland.

The Locations Register of 20th Century English Literary Manuscripts

A standard reference source for the study of English literature. It includes information about the manuscript holdings of repositories across the UK, from the British Library to small-town museums

Archives Portal Europe

A portal bringing together information on archival material from different European countries as well as information on archival institutions throughout the continent.