Digital Microfilm at the National Archives

From the webpage of the new Digital Microfilm pilot project of the National Archives in the UK:


Digital Microfilm is a project piloting a new way to deliver records online. The National Archives has a large collection of microfilmed records, and by making these available online we hope to increase their accessibility. This will ultimately allow the microfilm readers used at The National Archives, Kew to be retired.

We have digitised four records series Link to glossary - opens in a new window of military and naval records. If the project is successful, we intend to add a wide variety of record series covering many different areas of interest. Many of the records are indexes and we hope that these will be helpful in locating other relevant records.

The new way of delivery is by using very large pdfsLink to glossary - opens in a new window, each of which contains a whole pieceLink to glossary - opens in a new window, which could be up to 800 pages long. This means that Digital Microfilm is only available to online users with a broadband connection, and to users in the Reading Rooms at The National Archives.

These records have not been indexed, and so you will need to scroll through the pdfs, much as you would when using a microfilm. However, we would be more than happy for users to transcribe any of the Digital Microfilm content, and post it on Your Archives, The National Archives’ online community of records users.

These documents are free of charge to download. If you try out the Digital Microfilm pilot, we would be grateful for your comments.

Browsing the documents

The Digital Microfilm pilot means that we have made entire piecesLink to glossary - opens in a new window available free of charge. We have not indexed the detail within the records and so you would not be able to search them in the same way as you could search for a medal card, for example. Instead you will need to scroll through the pdfs, much as you would when using a microfilm.

You can use our Quick and Advanced search forms to search for the full catalogue reference, for example WO 144/1. Alternatively there is also a specific search form for these documents.

If you are unsure which catalogue reference interests you, we would recommend searching the Catalogue first. In each of our guides to the records below, we have included a link to the catalogue entry for each collection to help you with your search. When you are viewing the catalogue entry for a piece which interests you, click on the ‘Request this’ button and follow the instructions to download the item.

Technical Requirements

These are large pdf files, and you will need to have a broadband internet connection in order to download them. It may take your computer some time to download each file. Once you have downloaded the pdf file, we recommend that you save the document to your computer for future reference.

These are large files to download, being on average 400MB. You may wish to contact your broadband provider to check whether large downloads will incur a cost to you.

To view the pdfs you will need to have Adobe Reader installed on your computer. Read more about Adobe Reader

When printing from these files, be careful that you do not opt to print the whole document, because some of them are over 800 pages long. Instead, specify which page numbers you would like to print.

I’ve tried this and although it’s slow it does work. I downloaded a coastguard file from Ireland which was 314MB. I have a broadband connection but we must remember that the speeds we get in Australia are very slow compared to other countries.

The files that are available so far are probably of limited use to NSW genealogists. The names in the files are not indexes so you have to have an idea that you might find something useful in them to start with, and then go looking. The usual problems of reading old handwriting and microfilm quality are apparent.

Notwithstanding the problems I think this is a brilliant way to get records out there quickly. If we were to wait for the National Archives staff or volunteers to index the records we would be waiting for many years. The alternative is for a commercial company like Ancestry or FindMyPast to do it. Searching would be easier but the cost is a factor and the perceived value of these records may be such that they may not get around to them for some years.

Show your support for this project by giving it a go. The more people they have using it the more successful they will see it, and hopefully the more records they add.

The webpage is here.

WordPress Login Protected by Clef