Frequently Asked Questions

Click on a question to see the answer.

    • Q: Why can’t some documents be ordered?

      A. There are several reasons why a document can’t be ordered:

      1. The document may have been marked as unfit for production (UFP) by the conservator. More…

        This means that the document has been assessed by The Keep conservator as too damaged to be handled by a researcher. The document may be permanently damaged beyond repair or it may have been scheduled to receive conservation by the conservator to make it fit for production again. For further details about the individual item you can email The Keep at or ask a member of staff at The Keep in person.

      2. You may be trying to order a record that represents many documents. You can only order individual documents at once. More…

        For example: The Archive of Rye Corporation contains a record called Parish and Church lands Administered by the Corporation. This record describes 33 individually described records to do with the church lands in Rye. When you press the Order in Advance tab on this record, the following text is shown:

        “This record cannot be ordered because it describes a number of documents that can be ordered only individually. Please click here to find an individual document to order.”

        When you click the link you will see all the 33 records available for order underneath this record. Click on any one of these records to go to the record page for the document and order it as normal. Documents like this that can’t be ordered can still be put into your Wishlist. In the Wishlist you would see the document with a grey cross over the selection box for the record with an explanation of why you can’t order the document underneath the record title.

      3. The document may have been ordered by someone else on the same day that you want to see it. If you see a sad face icon in the advance order screen, someone else has ordered this document on the day that you have chosen. You will need to select another day to come and see the item.
      4. The document may not have been received at The Keep. You may see ‘not received’; this means that a document that was part of a series of documents sent to The Keep wasn’t received.
      5. The document may require acclimatisation. Photographs and other audio visual media need to be stored at lower temperatures and acclimatised to higher temperatures very slowly. If a document requires acclimatisation you will see a medic face instead of a smiley face when you check availability in the advance ordering screen. If you are in The Keep and want to see this document, ask a member of staff who will advise you of the waiting time to get the document out of the cold store.
      6. The document might be out on loan.
      7. The document may contain information sensitive to the Data Protection Act
      8. The document might be available digitally in The Keep reference room.
      9. You may have already ordered 3 documents in advance for the day. You can order only 3 documents at a time. You can put the document into your wishlist and order it once you have looked at one of your 3 ordered items.
      10. The document may not be located properly on our inventory management system. Don’t worry, we know where the document is! You might see a message after you try to place your order in the advance order screen that says no location can be found for the item. This means that The Keep staff have yet to tell the system where the document is. This is likely because the cataloguer hasn’t completely finished with the document yet. Please ask a member of staff when you see this message and they will be happy to get the document out for you.

      You will be advised at one of four places during the ordering process that a document can’t be ordered:

      • In the main body of the record details
      • In the ‘Order in advance’ tab of the record.
      • In the wish list
      • In the Advance order form
    • Q: Why can I order only 3 documents at once?

      It is common for researchers to take longer than they had planned to consult their ordered documents. Often a researcher won’t get through all 3 documents they have ordered in one day. To prevent staff retrieving a lot of archive containers from the store that will never be looked at we have a 3 document limit at any one time. Once you have seen your first document you are free to order another one.

    • Q: What is the hierarchy?

      The different component parts of an archive are related to each other, both horizontally – for example two minute books – and vertically – for example all the minute books of whatever sort from an organisation. Archivists preserve these relationships when they are listing records, and the resulting chart of how the records in an archive relate to each other is called The Hierarchy. Another way of looking at it is as an upside-down tree, in which the trunk is the archive, the branches its main sections, the twigs the sub-sections and the leaves the documents themselves.

      The highest level of a hierarchy – the trunk in the tree analogy – is called the Collection or ‘Fonds’ level. All the material in the archive collection derives from it, but you won’t find each individual item described at Collection level. That record will describe in general terms what the collection is about, and may include a history of the person or organisation which created it, and details of how it has been looked after in the past.

      Underneath the Collection level there are parts (often referred to as Series) that represent bits of the collection produced by the same part of the organisation or activity. These are the branches.

      Underneath the Series level there may be Sub-Series – the twigs – in which are grouped material relating to a smaller element of work or thought.

      And finally the Files, the individual documents themselves. Very occasionally, Files can be so interesting or detailed that their component parts – even an individual page or letter in a bundle– are separately described. Such elements are called Items, but of course you can see them only as part of the File of which they are part (although some items such as single letters can be seen individually).

      You may well have found a document by doing a word-search; the beauty of the hierarchy is that it enables you to learn more about the document by seeing it as part of the larger organisation or person that produced it.

      When you see the hierarchy or tree on the Keep website, you’ll notice that the arrangement is as much horizontal as vertical – the tree is lying on its side. This is to help you see more clearly how the different elements of the collection relate to each other.

      For a more detailed description of the Hierarchy see the guide on the Archives Hub:

    • Q: Can I order a document I have seen before?

      Yes! The easiest way to order a document you have seen before is to go to your previous orders screen to find the document and order it from there. You can find out more details on how to do this by looking at the Your previous orders guide.

    • Q: How do I change my password?

      If you need to change your password you can do so from your personal details screen when you are logged in See here for details about changing your password.

    • Q: How do I correctly cite a document I have seen at The Keep?

      Coming soon…

    • Q: How do I order a document?

      We are one of the few archives in the UK that offers online ordering of archival materials. Rather than browsing a paper catalogue or sending us lists of records you have found in the online catalogues, you can place an order for a document online from the catalogue and book a day to come in and see the document. You can learn lots more about ordering documents to see at The Keep by using our online ordering guides.

    • Q: How do I register?

      You don’t need to register to visit The Keep and use the open plan Reference Room (it is just like a public library), but if you want to look at archival documents you need to register as a Reader. Once registered you can book a seat and order original documents to view in our Reading Room. You can either pre-register online or register when you arrive at The Keep. See the guide Register for a reader card for more details.

    • Q: How do I research the history of my house?

      As a first step consult your title deeds (and if possible bring them with you to The Keep) because even if they are not old, there may be abstracts of title which summarise earlier ones and information in recent deeds may help you to identify your house in records available here. If you live in a town it is more difficult to trace the history of your house (for example tithe maps do not usually cover urban areas). Our guide Tracing the History of a house gives more information.

    • Q: How do I research my family history?

    • Q: How do I find a will?

      See our guide How to find a will.

    • Q: Will The Keep do any research for me?

      If you are unable to visit The Keep, or require support with your research, our expert Research Service can help. Find out how to make use of our rearch service here.

    • Q: Am I allowed to take photocopies or digital images?

    • Q: Does The Keep offer a remote copying service?

      Yes! Documents can be requested using our reprographics service (either photocopied or scanned/photographed, depending on the item). Contact us with the details of the item that you wish to be reproduced, for further details and charges. For all reprographics orders, a reprographics order form will need to be completed. This can be filled in as your initial contact inquiry and we will send the quotation for what you require, or you can email us/write to us with your inquiry and then we will send the form with your quotation.

    • Q: Can you view archives or records online like other family history websites? Do you charge for this?

      Unfortunately it isn’t possible to view family history archives or records online at this time.

    • Q: How does The Keep’s catalogue differ from a search engine?

      Searching an archive’s catalogues can be very different from doing a google search. See this blog post to get an idea about what some of the differences are.


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Posted from London, England, United Kingdom.