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William Shakespeare's signature on his will (catalogue reference: PROB 1/4 f.2)

The information below gives guidance on how to cite records and catalogues held by The National Archives in notes, publications and theses.

Precise and consistent citation helps to demonstrate that research work is based on documentary evidence. It is also crucial to allow other researchers to identify the source, verify information or take any initial research forward.


A brief citation usually contains the following information:

  • the name of the institution responsible for the custody of the records or catalogues: The National Archives
  • the full catalogue reference: the alphanumeric code used to identify, describe and order the record
  • the internal identifier: details of the folio, page, docket, membrane or other number within the piece (the container box, volume, folio, bundle, roll and so on). File references provided by the government departments that created the records can be a key internal identifier for certain records. When available, the former file reference appears in The National Archives online catalogue under the label 'Former references: in its original department'

In some cases it is necessary to include the extended reference, that is the full series title, which may provide useful context information.

Specific guidance on each of these points appears below, followed by advice on the citation of online catalogue page and a short note on copyright requirements.

The National Archives

The National Archives may be described or cited as:

  • The National Archives (TNA)
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA)

We recommend using a capital T on 'The' when writing our name, whether or not it comes at the beginning of a sentence.

The Public Record Office and the Historical Manuscripts Commission

The Public Record Office (PRO) has legal designation as a place of custody under the Public Records Acts of 1958 and 1967. The Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC) has legal designation as an advisory body in the Royal Warrants of 1869, 1959 and 2003. In long full citation, the name of the specific legal entity relevant to the documents to be cited used to follow the institutional name, separated by a colon, for example: 

  • The National Archives (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO) 
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO) 
  • The National Archives (TNA): Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC) 
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC)

In subsequent citation, the abbreviated forms TNA: PRO and TNA: HMC were used.

Since 2013 we no longer advise inserting the names 'Public Record Office (PRO)' or 'Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC)' within the citation string, as our new name is now well established nationally and internationally. In long full citation one of the following will suffice:

  • The National Archives (TNA)
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA)

1. The document reference for records held by The National Archives

This consists of three parts (if the researcher opts for piece level citation) or four parts (when researchers cite a specific descriptive item within a container piece):

1.1 Department code

This should be set out exactly as it appears in The National Archives' online catalogue (Discovery).The department code consists of one or more capital letters with no punctuation. They represent the government department, agency or body that created the records. They can also identify the name of a holding, high level collection or fonds. For example:

  • C  (Chancery)
  • WO  (War Office)
  • ADM  (Admiralty)
  • MPB  (Maps and plans extracted to flat storage from records of the Exchequer)
  • GUK  (Records of GOV.UK)

1.2. Series number

This usually consists of one set of numbers, which is added to the department code with a space intervening, identifying a particular series of records. A series is a main grouping of records with a common origin and function or subject matter. For example:

  • C 142
  • WO 32
  • ADM 114
  • MPAA 1
  • GUK 5

A few series codes contain two sets of numbers: a series number and a subnumber, separated by an oblique stroke. For example:

  • PRO 30/36
  • CP 25/2
  • IR 130/9

1.3. Piece number

A piece is not a single piece of paper; it may be a box, volume, file, roll and so on. The piece number should be set out as it appears in The National Archives online catalogue. It is usually a number but it may be a letter or a combination of number and letter. The piece reference is separated from the series code by an oblique stroke. For example:

  • JUST 1/46
  • SP 17/B
  • ASSI 34/57A

In a few series, the piece number may consist of two or more sets of numbers, or letters and numbers. More complex piece numbers may include a regnal year, law term, diocese, or continent. Please cite these exactly as they appear on The National Archives' catalogue. For example: 

  • E 163/6/46 
  • E 134/25Eliz/Trin1 
  • CO 700/MaltaandIonianIslands10a
  • CP 25/2/1321/2GeoIIIMich
  • LAB 2/10

1.4. Item number

An item is a part of a piece. It can be a bundle, a single document, a file, a sub-file, a pouch, a range of folios and so on.

An item can also be a unit of description listing names, places or other specific information contained within a piece. Traditionally, citation of our records was done at piece level (generally the unit of production at Kew). As itemisation has become common, in order to enhance the descriptions of our records and to enable digitisation, researchers may wish to cite an individual item within a piece.

The use of other internal identifiers (such as former departmental references, folio or page numbers) is also possible, in order to enable the physical location of the relevant information within the record.

The item part of a reference generally consists of one set of numbers, or letters and numbers after an oblique stroke. Born digital records may make further use of itemisation.

  • HO 42/15/1
  • HS 9/1/3
  • LAB 2/10/L169/1901

2. Referring to a record or to specific information within it

2.1 Referring to a series

A reference to a single complete series consists of department code, space, series number:

  • ADM 22

A reference to a run of consecutive series should contain the full code of the first and last series, separated by a hyphen:

  • CO 260 - CO 265

A reference to two or more non-consecutive series should all be in full, separated by semi-colons:

  • ASSI 35; ASSI 45; ASSI 54

2.2 Referring to a run of pieces in a single series

A reference to a run of consecutive pieces or items within a series should take one of two forms:

When the first and last piece numbers differ only in the element following the final oblique stroke, there is no need to repeat all the elements; the document reference of the first piece should be given in full, followed by a hyphen and the final element of the last piece number:

  • MH 17/107-112
  • E 134/25Eliz/Trin1-4

When the variation occurs in any element before the final oblique stroke, the complete document reference of both the first and last records should be given, separated by a hyphen:

  • ASSI 35/55/1 - ASSI 35/58/2

A reference to two or more non-consecutive records in the same series should be treated in the same way. When the piece or item numbers differ only in the element following the final oblique stroke, the catalogue reference of the first record should be given in full, followed by the final element of the remaining records, separated from each other by a comma:

  • ASSI 35/55/1, 3, 6

However, when the variation occurs before the final oblique stroke, the full catalogue reference of each piece should be given, separated by a semi-colon:

  • ASSI 35/55/1; ASSI 35/56/2

2.3 Referring to a run of items within a piece

The general principles above regarding format, non-consecutive references and punctuation remain the same and should apply for the citation of specific items. Always refer to a whole piece instead of a complete run of all the items within it. For example, cite INF 9/749 instead of INF 9/749/1-28 when the citation refers to all the 28 photographs for a particular place (the container piece description).

Citation of runs of items should only be used to identify parts of a piece:

  • ADM 1/1618/26-27

The above sequence identifies the letters of a particular captain within a piece which contains correspondence for surnames starting with a letter of the alphabet.

2.4 The internal identifier

A reference to an internal part of a document not referenced in The National Archives catalogue can take a variety of forms but should always be separated from the catalogue reference by a comma, not by an oblique stroke. They may be written in full (for example: page, folios, membrane).

The following abbreviations may be used, without punctuation and not italicised:

  • p or pp for page or pages 
  • f or ff for folio or folios 
  • no or nos for number or numbers 
  • m or mm for membrane or membranes (used only for chancery-style rolls - those sewn head to foot, and for parchment membranes of files) 
  • rot or rots for rotulus or rotuli (used only for exchequer-style rolls - those sewn together at the head) 
  • col or cols for column or columns

The abbreviation will usually be followed by a number or a letter. Numbers are written as Arabic numerals with one exception: if a document (for example, a printed report) contains two sequences of internal numbering, one with roman numerals and the other with Arabic numerals, small roman numerals should be used for the former:

  • SP 52/64, f xvi

When the reference is to the piece of parchment rather than to its contents, the number of the folio or membrane is enough. However, when the reference is to the contents, it may be necessary to be more specific. After the folio, rotulus or membrane number, researchers may add the following letters: 'r' (for the recto of a folio or rotulus), 'v' (for the verso of a folio or rotulus) or 'd' (for the dorse of a membrane). If no 'd' is given after the membrane number, it is implied that the number refers to the face.

After letters or small roman numerals the words recto, verso and dorse should be written in full instead of the abbreviations, to prevent ambiguity. The number should be repeated when the matter referred to begins on one side and continues onto the other:

  • C 66/76 m 21d
  • SP 52/40, f 21r 
  • JUST 1/509, rot 4r-4v 
  • E 363/3, rot F verso 
  • SP 52/64, f xvi recto - xvi verso

If there is no internal numbering or former file or department numbering, the internal reference should consist of the briefest description that allows ready identification of the part being cited, such as a date, or a date and the names of the correspondents. Dates should be set out in the order day, month, year but should otherwise be given as in the document. For example:

  • PRO 1/3, 25 June 1840 Workmen to Palgrave 
  • T 1/4396, paper 6312/33 
  • CO 23/280, gov 118 of 3 Sept 1917 
  • FO 371/96853, file 1015, paper 32
  • WO 373/154, 68/Gen/7638
  • FO 383/15, docket no 170625

The principles outlined above for runs of pieces and items should be followed for runs of pages or membranes.

2.5 Consecutive pages:

  • CO 5/690, pp 143-149 
  • JUST 1/509, rots 4r-11v

2.6 Non-consecutive pages:

  • CO 5/690, pp 103, 108, 113 
  • JUST 1/509, rots 1r, 2v, 4r

A run of almost continuous numbers can be written in the same way as consecutive numbers, with the addition of the word 'passim':

  • CO 5/690, pp 103-149 passim

If there are conflicting sequences of numbers on the folios or membranes, and it is not obvious which numeration should be chosen, consult a member of staff at The National Archives. The numeration chosen should be indicated briefly in a list of abbreviations or within square brackets immediately after the number when the document is first cited.

  • JUST 1/699, rot 1 [orig nos] schedule 1r 

3. The extended reference

In every work in which a series reference is used for citation, a definition in words of that series code should somewhere appear. The full series title may appear in a prefatory list of abbreviations, in a bibliography or in the footnote where the series is first cited. The words should be the series title exactly as it appears in the catalogue:

  • C 139 Chancery: Inquisitions Post Mortem, Series I, Henry VI
  • PREM 9 Prime Minister's Office: Reports on the Efficiency of the Civil Service by Sir Derek Rayner
  • HO 477 Identity and Passport Service Website

Examples of full citation:

  • The National Archives (TNA): WO 32 
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): JUST 1/40
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): ADM 1/2233/19
  • The National Archives (TNA): C 139 Chancery: Inquisitions Post Mortem, Series 1, Henry VI


  • TNA: WO 32 
  • TNA: JUST 1/40 
  • TNA: ADM 1/2233/19
  • TNA: C 139 Chancery: Inquisitions Post Mortem, Series 1, Henry VI

4. Citations for lists or catalogue entries from the National Register of Archives (NRA) and from archives elsewhere

Numbered lists and entries of the National Register of Archives (NRA) and catalogue references from resources in archives elsewhere, which identify records not held by The National Archives, may be cited as follows:

4.1 Lists and catalogue entries from the NRA:

  • The National Archives (TNA): NRA 31235


  • TNA: NRA 31245

4.2 Lists and catalogue entries from the Manorial Documents Register (MDR):

The National Archives (TNA): MDR GB/NNAF/M204906


  • TNA: MDR GB/NNAF/M191651

4.3 Catalogue entries in Discovery for records not held by The National Archives:

Citation of records held elsewhere, whose descriptions appear in Discovery, should follow the guidance available from the institution responsible for the custody of the records. These references should not include the name of The National Archives (TNA). In the absence of guidance from the holding institution, citation may follow this format:

  • Name of repository: Repository reference

Citation of our online catalogue entry for those records should follow the section of this document for 'Citing online catalogue webpages'.

5. Citing online catalogue webpages

Citation of online catalogue webpages should include the following elements:

1. The name of the website: The National Archives website

2. The name of the part of the website, clearly identified using plain English and separated from the previous element by a colon: Discovery

3. The catalogue reference (separated from the previous element by a colon): WARD

4. The title from the title field within the descriptive catalogue entry or in its absence the description field. In a minority of cases descriptions can be quite lengthy, in which case the first phrase or sentence should be used (as necessary) to aid understanding. A comma should be placed at the end of this element: Records of the Court of Wards and Liveries,

5. An internal reference such as a folio number may be used to aid identification within the webpage when descriptions are very long. (See example below for ADM 101/101/1)

6. The covering dates from the descriptive catalogue entry followed by a comma: c1200-1826,

7. You may wish to add the name of the field (label) where the information comes from. For example: Administrative/biographical background or Description or Custodial history

8. The uri (url), which in the case of Discovery pages contains the unique database identifier or information asset id, preceded by the words 'available at': available at http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C258

9. The precise date when the information was accessed and taken from The National Archives website, expressing  the day in numbers, the name of the month in full and four digits for the calendar year: (accessed 24 July 2013)

Examples of The National Archives website citation:

The National Archives Website: Discovery: WARD Records of the Court of Wards and Liveries, c1200-1826, Administrative/biographical background available at  http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C258 (accessed 24 July 2013)

The National Archives Website: Discovery: DEFE Division 3 Communications and Intelligence Records, 1912-1991, Administrative/biographical background available at http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C1015 (accessed 10 September 2013)

The National Archives Website: Discovery: STAC 8 Court of Star Chamber: Proceedings, James I, c1558-c1649, Description available at http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C13677 (accessed 4 September 2013)

The National Archives Website: Discovery: ADM 101/101/1 Medical journal of HMS Formidable, ff 49-52, 1844, Description available at http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C4107136 (accessed 24 July 2013)

The National Archives Website: Discovery: PROB 11/4/1 Will of Thomas Aleyn, Leather Seller of London, 9 August 1454, Description available at   http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=D968775 (accessed 1 July 2013)

6. Copyright

Most records held by The National Archives are in copyright, which imposes restrictions on the extent to which they may be quoted, published in full or reproduced in facsimile without permission from the copyright owner. More information is available on our Copyright webpages.