Wednesday, 23 July 2014

More on the UK's archives - international comparison

Yesterday I wrote a blog post comparing the provisions of the three national archives of the United Kingdom (as presently constituted) - the National Archives at Kew, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast, and the National Records of Scotland at Edinburgh. The blog post, available at, was designed to flag up how far behind the National Records of Scotland is falling in terms of providing an acceptable user service, in comparison to its sister sites. Several people have responded with their own experiences - thanks to those who have, and please do keep them coming!

John Reid of the Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections blog, has now taken the same criteria that I used in my comparison to reflect on Canada's national archive provision in Ottawa, at the Library and Archives Canada facility. It's an interesting read, available at I amended my post this morning to add one final category - is it enjoyable to visit? - which is not included in John's assessment, though I think I can guess the result! Canada's facility, which I visited a couple of years ago, has been under quite an assault of its own in recent times, and at the archive conference hosted by CAIS in Dundee that I attended in April 2013 there was much solidarity shown between British archivists and that from the Canadian archive sector.

I'd be interested to know how national archives elsewhere in the world compare - New Zealand, Australia, the Republic of Ireland, Europe, the United States? What makes for best practice from a genealogical user's point of view, what really doesn't work, and what innovations can be made that you think might improve the picture at your national archive, whether here in the UK or elsewhere around the world?

Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa

Search room at LAC

(With thanks to John)


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.


  1. "what innovations can be made that you think might improve the picture at your national archive"

    Outlying presences (in county record offices?) to allow those of us who cannot get to TNA etc to access digital records on the same basis as those visiting TNA in person?

    For British Isles - a similar arrangement between National Archives.

  2. There is a small version of this for Scotland, in that kirk session records have been made accessible at local archive facilities across the country, though I think this was part of the conditions set by the Kirk for granting permission to digitise them. It works well - but why stop at one record set?!

  3. I'd certainly like to know how others view their national archives too.
    As for the added dimension, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is a utilitarian environment. Since the cafeteria closed the opportunities to meet with other researchers over coffee or lunch have evaporated. They have not had displays in several years, there is no program of presentations and no bookstore. Those, together with the openness of TNA are what put it way above LAC in view. I've never researched in Northern Ireland or Scotland.

  4. I would put PRONI on a par with TNA for efficiency, and a wee bit more fun to work at - I'd suggest NRS goes half way in the scale between that and your description of LAC John. Sorry to hear things haven't improved there yet, I know archivists have had a hard time there of late