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How to handle documents at the archive

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on January 8th, 2017


How not to hand back documents at the national archive

Photos of how NOT to return documents at The National Archive taken from a display in one of the reading rooms at TNA.


I found myself at The National Archives this week renewing my reader’s ticket which had expired.

The process requires researchers to fill out a form online at a computer terminal and then watch a 5 minute video about how to handle TNA’s documents. I was surprised that, even to someone who thought that they knew all that stuff, the presentation taught me something!

It was how to examine a document with a seal attached that stopped me in my tracks. It was pointed out that the process for looking at the other side of the seal required the reader to deftly turn the entire document over, while turning the seal at the same time. The video suggested asking a member of staff for help, if the process was to daunting for the researcher to carry out themselves.

There were many other tips on how to unpack, look at and repack documents without damaging them – including how to deal with those tagged together with, what I recall from my days in stationery retailing, as ‘Treasury tags’.

When I finally got to the reading room, to collect my bundles of documents and start making my exciting discoveries from within the records that have not made it online at any of the subscription sites, I was fascinated to see that not everyone heeds the advice. In a display cabinet, by the service point, was a set of horrifying photographs of how some documents had been returned. It made me wonder at how unthinking some people can be. Having, presumably, extracted the benefit for them selves from viewing the papers, they had little concern as to the preservation of these records for anyone else.


The National Archives

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