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Duration 01:40

Video guides: The records we hold

Watch our video guides for guidance on how to search our records and get the most of out of your visit to The National Archives.


The National Archives holds over 11 million records created by central government and the courts of law.

Some of the documents we hold are hundreds of years old, and coming from many government departments, they have been stored in lots of different places.

Over the years, some documents were lost or damaged by damp… fire… and even wartime bombing.

Government departments create records for their own day-to-day business needs. The departments that create the records keep them while they are in regular use.

Government legislation determines when records are passed to The National Archives for permanent preservation.

It’s not practical to keep every document ever produced, and because it’s difficult to assess which records will be important for future generations, each department discusses with us what needs to be preserved.

Only around 5% of Government records are finally chosen for permanent preservation.

You may not be able to see some of the records right away. They might contain personal details or information of importance to national security.

However, many records that were once closed, for example World War II secret agent details, court proceedings, and defence records, are now open for public inspection.

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