Archives Discovery at The National Archives

The National Archives’ catalogue, Discovery – , is a great source for finding archives held at institutions across the United Kingdom. You can “use Discovery to search for records held by The National Archives and around 2,500 archives and institutions across the United Kingdom as well as a much smaller number of archives around the world.”

Discovery contains all the records catalogued at The National Archives. It is also shows whether these records have been digitsed and are available online. This is currently around 5% of the records it holds.

Discovery is a project that The National Archives has been working on for a number of years and has integrated some of the other services it offers:

Records held by other archives and institutions

You can use Discovery to search for records held by other archives and institutions. These will sometimes be full catalogue entries and sometimes a person, family, business or organisation with a brief description and where the records are held. These catalogue entries are made up of two previous databases:

Access 2 Archives (A2A) – This was a project that ran from 2000-2008. It was an archives portal for finding aids from archives across the UK. Most catalogues were added as part of a cataloguing project often with a theme such as family and estate collections. Some archives added more of their catalogues at a later date. Some archives submitted more catalogues than others, but not their entire holdings; so it is still worth checking with an archive, if they hold records you want, but you can’t find a catalogue on Discovery.

National Register of Archives (NRA) – The NRA was set up in 1945 and 1946 in Scotland, and was the responsibility of the Historical Manuscripts Commission. They collected or created lists of archives held privately across England and Wales. The NRA lists are mostly very basic box lists. The National Archives holds physical copies of all the actual NRA lists from England, Wales and Scotland, and you can view them at The National Archives in Kew.

In Discovery you will see the person, family, business or organisation the records relate to and a brief description with covering dates. Many of these records have now been deposited with an archive, but some are still held privately. You can see where they are held in Discovery and there is sometimes a link to an online catalogue.

You will probably see old references to A2A and the NRA on other websites, but they are both now integrated into Discovery.

Manorial Documents Register

Manorial records consist of court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, franchises, wastes, customs or courts of a manor. They are covered by certain legislation, as they are the only proof to the title of copyhold land. This legislation ensures the preservation the records. The National Archives is responsible for the maintenance of the Manorial Documents Register under these rules. The register for many counties has been computerised and can be found through Discovery, using a basic search (there is beta testing for the MDR advanced search).

You can find out more about Manorial Documents Register here.

You can find which Counties have been computerised here

Find an archive

Find an archive on the Discovery home page gives details of archives and other institutions that hold records across the UK

You can search Find an Archive by map, country, region, county or by name. Some of the features it includes are listed below:

  • Contact details, map and website

(when this information has been sent to The National Archives there are also:)

  • Links to items in Discovery e.g. business, organisations, people and families
  • Links to the archive’s online catalogue
  • Links to the NRA catalogue references of records held by the archive.
  • Lists of new accessions by year

Find an Archive used to be called the Archon directory and again you may find old references to it on other websites.

Tagging records in Discovery

Discovery has a crowd sourcing feature where you can tag records for yourself to find later or to help others. The National Archives adds date and location tags to the catalogue entries, but anyone can add any tag to them after that. However just be aware, they are not checked for accuracy.

Accessions to repositories

Each year most archives send lists of all the new accessions they have received over the year. These are not yet in Discovery, but you can find them here: arranged by subject or on each archive’s page in Find an Archive.

Research guides

The National Archives has been working on a project to redesign their research guides and give them a more user centred approach. More about this work can be found in their blog

Their new look research guides are in the Beta testing stages. Take a look here and let them know…


Discovery is a great resource, but if you feel you need help searching it you can take a look at The National Archives free webinar – Using Discovery – The National Archives online catalogue.

This is on Tuesday, 7 April 2015 from 12:00 to 13:00 (BST), you can register using the below link.

Webinars are available, even if you miss the actual event:



Discovery Catalogue, The National Archives,   Accessed 4 Apr 2015

Manorial Documents Register, The National Archives,  Accessed 4 Apr 2015


Current initiatives, Manorial Documents Register, The National Archives, Accessed 4 Apr 2015

Find an Archive, The National Archives,  Accessed 4 Apr 2015

Help us tag our collections, The National Archives,, Accessed 4 Apr 2015

Accessions to repositories, The National Archives, Accessed 4 Apr 2015

Website redesign: help with your research by Paul Lamey and Matt Norman, The National Archives blog, Accessed 4 Apr 2015

Help with your research, beta pages, The National Archives, Accessed 4 Apr 2015

Webinars, The National Archives, Accessed 4 Apr 2015


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s