National Archives (formerly the Public Records Office) is responsible for the Government archives, and complements the British Library (for printed books, etc.) and the county records offices, such as HALS for Hertfordshire. It is situated in some vast buildings at Kew.
The online site contains many links to a very wide range of documents and information about archives, and is continually developing - so should be considered as an important resource. In particular over a million wills are now available online, and the main search is linked to the Access to Archives index.
It has a wide range of very informative online guides and I particularly recommend their guide on Wills and probate.
However it must be realised that many of the larger documents indexed will not be catalogued in details. For example an estate account book - which may contain details of estate employees, tenants and other people will only be indexed as an account book, and the names of the people mentioned in it will not be indexed. For this reason you must use your imagination to find documents which may contain references to the people or places you are looking for.
In August 2006 it put the Domesday Book online.
It started a blog - for those interested in following its activities, in February 2012.
Hospital Records Data Base
A useful source of information on hospitals, including locations of their records. For examples of the descriptions it contains see:
Hill End Hospital (1899-1997)
Sample Documents from the National Archives
|Probate Arrangements for Joseph Kimich's Will||J 121 / 6907||1916||A year after Joseph died all references to the family businesses vanished from the local trade directories. This document explains why.|
|Tring Coffee House Company Limited||BT 41/694/3782||
|Memorandum of Association, Shareholders list (mainly people from Tring), and winding up of short-lived company.|
|The Will of John Catling, victualler of Boxmoor||PROB 11/1786||1831||See CATLING, Hemel Hempstead area, c. 1815 [As supplied by the Documents Online Service]|
The National Archives are introducing a new "Discovery" service for searching their records and are asking for people to try out the Beta version and let them know what you think of them.
Online Document ordering service at National Archives is to be replaced by their new "Discovery Service" by the end of April and will be extended to replace their online catalogue by the end of June.
Page updated February 2012