Our online archive is a database of thousands of individual items, typically letters of between 50 and 500 words, but also including other document types, including statements of witnesses in court cases, reports, bills of exchange, wills and inventories. Items within the database are indexed by date and by the correspondent and recipient of each letter. In the case of wills, witness statements and reports, the name of the writer or subject is shown as ‘correspondent’. A variety of search tools are available to interrogate the collection, which can be used in isolation and combination.
To search the entire contents of the online archive free text can be entered in the ‘Search Term’ field. As with most current online search engines, enclosing your search text with double parentheses returns exact matches, whereas without the parentheses, results will include all items containing each of the individual search terms but not necessarily as part of the same phrase.
Eg. searching for “Dukesfield Mill” will give a shorter list of matching items than searching for Dukesfield Mill.
Bear in mind that words were often spelled differently, and abbreviated forms might have been extended by the transcriber using square brackets.
The text you’re searching for won’t be highlighted within the documents returned as a result of the search. To make it easier to find it within long letters or reports please use your web browser’s search function.
To search for particular correspondents, use the ‘Person’ and ‘Person #2’ search fields. If the ‘Person’ field alone is used, all letters and other items involving that name, whether as a correspondent or a recipient will be returned. If ‘Person #2’ is also used then all letters and other items between those individuals will be returned as the result of a search. This option can be useful in identifying sequences of letters to and fro between two individuals. As you start typing a name a list of available correspondents will appear, which you select from.
It is important to note that correspondent and recipient names are indexed on forename and surname where these are known, or by post (eg. Bishop of Durham) or multiple surnames in the case of letters to companies or business partnerships). This approach has been taken to simplify name searches as much as possible. The actual titles used in the correspondence are preserved within the transcript itself, and can be searched for using the general ‘Search term’ field.
Eg. all correspondence to and from ‘Sir Walter Blackett Esq MP Baronet’ will be found by entering ’Walter Blackett’ in the ‘Person’ field, instead of by having to search for each possible combination of his various honorific titles in order to locate all the letter to and from him.
Note, however, that letters involving different people sharing the same name will be returned in the search results in a single list. To help identify a particular individual narrow and sort the search results by date or review the actual contents of items that result from the search.
Eg. searching for ‘William Blackett’ using the ‘Person’ field might return correspondence for the first Sir William Blackett (1620-80), his son and grandson of the same names or other more distant relatives.
To search for a specific period, use the ‘From Date’ and ‘To date’ search fields as delimiters. All search dates are presented in modern calendar form. Until 1753, the new year’s date was typically not used until March 25th, so –for example- a letter of 19th January 1730 would normally have the date written as of 1729 or 1729/30. The date as written is given within the transcript but the item would be indexed as 1730.
The ‘Sort’ field is used to present the results of your search into chronological order, reverse chronological order or by title. Sorting on title presents results in alphabetical sequence of item type (typically letters, but also bills, reports, witness statement etc.) and then by ‘from’ and ‘to’ correspondent name.
Further information on the original source document –and a link to a downloadable file of the document- can be found by clicking on the source reference shown next to ‘Archive Source’ within each letter or other item.