Tuesday 24 May 2011

Digital microfilm at The National Archives

There are millions of document images available for download at DocumentsOnline. Most of those of  benefit to family historians have been name-indexed, and cost £3.50 per download. Some projects that had the benefit of external funding are free to download - 19th Century Poor Law Union and Workhouse Records are  particularly interesting.

But DocumentsOnline also includes some useful records that haven't had the all-singing, all-dancing treatment, and they are known as Digital Microfilm. These are records that are already available on microfilm, and have been scanned without any additional indexing; rolls of microfilm have been turned into PDF files that can be downloaded free of charge, so that you can access them at home instead of having to visit The National Archives at Kew, or at a Family History Centre. So apart from the fact that you look at the images on a computer screen rather than a microfilm reader, you do your research in these records in the old-fashioned way.

The first digital microfilm was released on the site some time ago, consisting of some army and navy records. These included service records of the Coastguard service, which I tested by repeating some research I had done several years ago, and it worked. If you have coastguard ancestors you can try this for yourself, with the help of the Research signpost on the subject, and the linked in-depth Research Guide for more information.

Now a number of other records have been added, including Prerogative Court of Canterbury original wills and sentences 1643-1646 (PROB 10/639-642). The court was sitting at Oxford during this period, and the wills proved there are not included in the main series of registered wills in series PROB 11.

The series RG 43, indexes to overseas births, marriages and deaths, has also been added. The registers themselves in RG 32-RG 36 have been digitised and indexed on the pay-per-view site BMDregisters.co.uk but it can still be helpful to see the indexes as a double check, and they include references to records that are held by the General Register Office, and not The National Archives, but that's another story...

PROB 10/642 will of John Tailer 1644
More digital microfilm will be added to DocumentsOnline in due course, so watch thsi space. As well as the advantage of access from anywhere with a broadband connection,  it is easier to make copies from digital microfilm than from regular microfilm, and you can save the images directly to your computer. You will need t have a fast broadband connection, though, since some of the files are very large, and can take some time to download. Happy searching.



  1. This is a great resource, Audrey. Let's hope TNA keep adding to Digital Microfilm even though its free to use and won't earn them any income. Have mentioned it on my 'British and Irish Genealogy' blog at www.bi-gen.blogspot.com . Best wishes.

  2. Thanks for sharing the information about this resource. I will see if it can help me