Frequently asked questions
What are archives?
Archives are the collections of records produced by individuals, families or organisations (such as local government organisations, companies or universities) during their activities or business.
Archives may be in various formats, including paper files, parchment documents, bound volumes, maps, plans, audio and video recordings and photographs. They may be of any date, from early centuries up to the present day. Archives are retained by their creators, or in record offices and other record repositories, because of their abiding interest for researchers - interest which their original creators might never have expected.
What are A2A (Access to Archives) catalogues?
The catalogues in the A2A database have been drawn up by archivists over time. The level of detail provided in the catalogues varies. Some catalogues describe individual files or documents in great detail, including references to people and places mentioned in them. Others only give summary information on each document they describe. Other catalogues provide a brief signpost to a whole archive.
Some terms used in A2A catalogues may not be familiar. The A2A Glossary will help with some of these.
Are all catalogues of archival collections in England and Wales included on A2A?
A2A contains about 30 per cent of catalogues of archival collections in England and Wales. The database now contains 10.3 million records relating to 9.45 million items held in 418 record offices and other repositories, however it does not always contain all the catalogues available online for a particular archive.
Is new content still being added to A2A?
There is no further programme for the addition of new material to the A2A site. However, it will continue to be available on the Internet, to be searched and referred to. Existing content can be updated and this takes place biannually.
Where else can I find catalogues for archives collections?
There are a number of other resources which may be of use, alongside A2A.
The National Register of
Archives (NRA).The NRA contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records that relate to British history, held in the UK and overseas. Collection level descriptions on the NRA also link to full catalogue descriptions on all the main archival networks (A2A, SCAN, Archives Hub, AIM25, Archives Network Wales, Janus) as well as 48 repositories online catalogues. In total over a third of NRA sub records link to an online catalogue.
The ARCHON directory is the central
directory of contact details for record repositories in the United Kingdom.
An ARCHON entry for a repository also includes links to the National Register of
Archives (NRA), A2A (or other relevant network) and, where applicable, the repositories
own online catalogue.
The National Archives is also continuing to encourage the online accessibility of archival finding aids. In recent years a number of paper NRA catalogues have been digitised, and have been made available online as PDFs. The lists are now fully-searchable using The National Archives Global Search. The project focused on repositories that were unable to make their lists available online through any other route.
Where can I find out about past A2A projects?
Information about past A2A projects is available in the UK Government Web Archive.
Where can I find out about the Community Access to Archives project?
Information about the past Community Access to Archives project is available in the UK Government Web Archive.
Where can I find out about Archives UK (aUK)
Information about aUK is available in the UK Government Web Archive.
Where can I find out about Archives 4 All?
Information about Archives 4 All, the fourth phase of A2A, is available in the UK Government Web Archive.
Can I view original documents on A2A?
Original documents cannot be viewed on A2A. A2A allows you to search and browse for information about collections of records (archives) in England and Wales, dating from the eighth century to the present day. The archives described on A2A are cared for in local record offices and libraries, universities, museums and national and specialist institutions across England and Wales, where they are made available to the public.