1. Why use this guide?
This guide explains how to use the Foreign Office card index 1906-1919.
You will need to use the index to access Foreign Office correspondence from 1906-1919. This correspondence is in a number of different record series (see section 3.2).
For papers after 1920 see our Foreign and Commonwealth correspondence and records research guide.
2. Essential information
Correspondence received by the Foreign Office was numbered and categorised. Each category now has a corresponding National Archives' record series (see table 2 in Section 3).
To identify relevant records within these categories you need to use the Foreign Office card index which is available at The National Archives, Kew.
There is a different process for using the card index depending on the date you are researching. The method for 1906-1909 differs slightly to the method for 1910-1919. Please note if you are researching 1910 you may need to try both methods as this was the year the registry system changed.
Please note, not all documents mentioned in the card index survive.
3. Understanding codes in the indexes
Each entry in the card index has a country code and a paper number. The card index from 1910-1919 also contains a file number. The codes have to be translated into The National Archives' modern document referencesA unique set of letters and numbers identifying a document in The National Archives..
Each country had its own code, composed of a unique stem number (see table i below).
i The country code stem numbers
|Country||Stem code||Country||Stem code||Country|
|1||Abyssinia to 1914;
Africa from 1914
|4||Belgium and Congo||24||Liberia||44||Turkey|
|5||Bolivia from 1911||25||Maskat [Muscat]||45||United States of America|
|8||Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua)||28||Morocco||48||Zanzibar|
|10||China||30||Norway to 1914
Scandinavia from 1914
|50||General (W50N = War Miscellaneous News)|
|11||Colombia||31||Pacific Islands to 1913||51||America: General from 1912|
|12||-||32||Panama and Costa Rica||52||Contract Labour from 1914|
|13||Crete to 1913||33||Paraguay||53||Albania 1914-1916|
|14||Cuba||34||Persia||54||Ecuador from 1914|
|15||Denmark||35||Peru (includes Bolivia to 1910 and Ecuador to 1913 )||55||Poland from 1918|
|16||Egypt||36||Portugal||56||Finland from 1918|
|17||France||37||Roumania [Romania]||57||Siberia from 1918|
|18||Germany||38||Russia||58||Caucasus from 1918|
|19||Greece to 1914
Balkans from 1914
|39||Serbia to 1914
War from 1914
Please note after 1914 this becomes the code for the First World War however you can find some post 1914 Serbia related material within it
|59||Baltic State 1919 only|
|20||Hayti [Haiti]and San Domingo||40||Siam||-||-|
ii Category codes
Extra numbers or letters were added to indicate which category the papers were placed in. The category corresponds to a particular National Archives record series (see table below).
For example, Germany had 18 for its stem number, so references to Germany in the card index have the following codes:
|Category||Political||Commercial||Consular||Treaty||Africa to 1913|
|Series||FO 371||FO 368||FO 369||FO 372||FO 367|
|New codes added in...|
|Code||1118||18W or W 18||1218||N18||2118|
|Category||Contraband||War series in||Prisoners||News||Coal and tonnage|
|Series||FO 382||FO 371||FO 383||FO 395||FO 382|
P or Pr with an abbreviated country name denotes the Prize section in FO 372, the Treaty series.
4. Using the card index 1910-1919
For this period it is easier as the card index often tells you the file number.
Step 1 Identify a card index entry of interest
Browse the card indexes by year, then by subject name or place. Identify relevant card indexes which cover your research topic.
Step 2 Note the following information:
- country code
- paper number
- file number
The file number is usually the lowest number, or the number which appears below another number. When the file and paper number are the same, the whole file is relevant.
|36||225385||16||Spanish Reformista party visit to Lisbon|
Using the tables above you can work out that country code 36 = Political, Portugal FO 371.
As there is only one number in the paper/file number column this means the file and paper number are the same. When there are two, the file number it is always the lower of the two.
Step 4 Search our catalogue
Use the advanced search to search by the country code within the relevant series. Then from your search results choose the document with the right file number range.
In this example:
Search for keyword:'code 36', restrict your search to the year 1916, and search within FO 371.
The relevant document is FO 371/2740 as this covers file number 225385.
Step 5: Identify relevant papers within the file.
When you have ordered your document, you will see each volume is arranged in file order number, and each file is then arranged by paper number.
Find your file number (for example 225385) and within that file find your page number.
5.Using the card index 1906-1909
For 1906-1910 the card index does not provide a file number so you will also need to use the general registers of correspondence in FO 566.
Step 1: Identify a card index entry of interest
The card index is arranged by year and then by subject, name or place. It does not include the names of officials and ministers dealing with the correspondence. You may have to do some lateral thinking to find your way around the subject index terms used.
Step 2: Convert the country code using the tables above and note down the paper number.
|Country code||Paper number||Year||Subject|
|17||28288||09||Flight across the channel|
From this information and using the code tables in section 3 you can work out:
- the country code 17 = FO 371, France
- paper no = 28288
Step 3 You will need to consult the appropriate general register of correspondence in FO 566 to identify the file in which the papers are kept.
Use advanced seach to search within FO 566 by country and date. From your search results, identify the relevant category - diplomatic, consular, commercial, treaty, or Africa.
In this example, it is diplomatic and therefore FO 566/745.
Please note many of the registers are available in the reading rooms at Kew but you will need a reader's ticket to view them. Others you will need to order.
Step 4: Identify the file number
Within the relevant FO 566 register find the appropriate date. Then look on the left hand page in the column second from left to find the paper number.
Check the number in the 'kept with' column on the right. This gives you the file where the paper is now kept.
In this example the numbers are the same therefore 28288 is the file number you need.
Step 5: Convert that file number into a modern National Archives document reference.
Search our catalogue for the country, and year within the relevant series - FO 371, FO 367, FO 368, FO 369 or FO 372.
Sort your search results by reference and look for the range of file numbers which covers the file number you identified in Step 4.
In this example, the relevant document is FO 371/668 as it covers files 17645-29484.
6. Cross-references in FO 566 registers
FO 566 register entries often provide cross-references to related material.
Left hand pages of registers refer to incoming correspondence and right hand pages to outgoing correspondence. Entries in black in the 'forward reference' column refer to incoming correspondence numerically arranged on the left page. Entries in red usually refer to outgoing correspondence arranged numerically on the right page.
The file number can then be traced to a document reference as in step 2 above.
7. Other useful record series
Further relevant material may be in:
- FO 370 - Foreign Office Library and the research department
- FO 366 - Foreign Office Chief Clerk department. This department mainly focused on expenditure issues and therefore covers many topics
These series are not included in the card index.
This also applies to a number of series containing Embassy and Consular archives, Confidential Print and miscellaneous series. Material gathered in cases (bundles of related material) may appear out of sequence in our catalogue. A consolidated index to these cases is available in the reading rooms, Kew.
8. Further reading
Michael Roper, The records of the Foreign Office, 1782-1968 (Public Record Office Publications, 2002)
L Atherton, 'Never complain, never explain', Records of the Foreign Office and State Paper Office 1500-c1960, Public Record Office Readers' Guide No7 (PRO publications, 1994)
The records of the Foreign Office, 1782-1939, Public Record Office Handbooks No13 (HMSO, 1969)