Libraries local and special collections

Find out about the range of local and special collections available across the county’s libraries.

We can provide access to a range of records, resources and services to enable you to research local and family history. These include:

  • Ancestry and FindMyPast - available from library computers
  • electoral rolls and poll books
  • parish register records
  • property history
  • trade directories
  • local census information
  • historic newspapers

Researching family history

Tracing your family history is an interesting and rewarding hobby. We have produced some guidance to family history research to help get you started.

Guidance on researching family history

Getting organised

As with any job you need to equip yourself with the right tools, including a way of recording the information you gather. This can be as simple as using a pencil and notepad. Alternatively, you may prefer to use a folder with separate sheets or record cards. Some publishers of genealogical material also produce specific stationery for use in family research. Dedicated family research software might be useful if you prefer to gather information on a computer. Several websites allow you to record family research information online. A small tape recorder can also prove useful when interviewing relatives or recording information on the move.

Information from elderly relatives

Initially, the best sources of information are elderly relatives. Ask them about names, dates, places, occupations and important events. This is where a tape recorder can be helpful in recording the information. You could ask them if they have any old photographs and if they can they identify the people in them. You could also ask for copies of certificates or documents they have that could help. Beware of family stories that link you to someone famous, but don't ignore the more eccentric stories entirely, as there may be a kernel of truth about them. Try to corroborate information if you can.

Always remember some people can be sensitive about events in their past. Older generations often have different attitudes to things than younger people today. They might have strong opinions to things such as marriage, divorce, sex, race or religion, amongst others. You will have to be aware that a possible sensitive situation may arise from your research and act appropriately.

With the information you gather from your immediate family, you should be able to draw up a basic family tree.

Help from your local library

Even the smallest library will have access to books on how to trace your family tree. You may also want to read up on the social history of where your family lived. Books not in stock can be requested through the inter-library loan system.

There are also other sources of information you can use as you as your research progresses. Libraries can provide a wide variety of information and various indexes are available in printed form, on microfiche or on CD. You might also find out if someone has already published information on your family.

Staff in all North Yorkshire libraries will be happy to help you start looking into your family history. All the libraries provide free access to the internet.

Information from the North Yorkshire county record office

The county record office collects, preserves, and makes available a wealth of archive material relating to the history of the county of North Yorkshire.

Searching birth, marriage and death records

If you are searching for official records, the best source, to begin with, is birth, marriage and death certificates. The civil registration system from which these certificates are extracted began in England and Wales on 1 July 1837, in Scotland on 1 January 1855 and in Ireland in 1864. This part of your research can be expensive as you will have to pay for access to the records, either through a dedicated website or by postal applications. Searching through the indexes held at Northallerton Library and Scarborough Library can help reduce these costs

Certificates for North Yorkshire records can be ordered using our online certificates form. Other English and Welsh certificates can be ordered through the Office of National Statistics. Those with Scottish ancestry have to apply to the General Register Office for Scotland in Edinburgh. A fire at the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922 destroyed many records, which makes tracing Irish ancestors more difficult.

Searching census records

A census has been taken every ten years since 1841, except in 1941 during the Second World War. Those from 1851 onwards can give you names, addresses, ages, family relationships, occupations and places of birth. Some indexes are available which will greatly aid your research, particularly the index for 1881 that is available in some libraries. The 1901 census for England and Wales is available online, as are the 1891 and 1901 Scottish censuses.

Searching parish registers

Parish registers are one of the most useful and widely known sources for researching family history. They are primarily a record of baptisms, marriages and burials of your ancestors who attended the parish church.

Some parish registers are still kept by the local church but most are now kept at the local county record offices. To protect records many are now available for viewing on microfiche or microfilm and booking is usually required.

The Church of the Latter Day Saints has produced the International Genealogical Index which contains millions of parish and other record entries. It is by no means complete and you are advised to check the original parish record. Access to the index is available online at all North Yorkshire libraries.

Joining a family history society

Another way to get help and information is to join a family history society. Even if you do not originate from the area in which you live, you will meet like-minded people and hear interesting talks. They often produce their own magazine and publish their own list of membership interests, indexes of censuses and monumental inscriptions for their areas.

An example of what a family history society can offer is the Scarborough family history help desk, run by the East Yorkshire Family History Society. The help desk operates in Scarborough Library on the second Saturday of every month from 10am to 3.30pm. Members of the society are available to talk to you about tracing your family tree and researching your local family history.

Recording your information

Take care to record the source of your findings. This not only acts as a reference if you have to recheck your information, but it prevents duplication of work. If you record something from a secondary source such as a transcribed index or from someone else's chart on the internet, you are advised to check the original source yourself. Family history often requires quite a bit of detective work. Don't assume that someone with the same surname in the same area is yours and check all variations of your surname spelling. Ages on census records can be unreliable so always look for further evidence.

Researching the history of a house

We have produced some guidance on researching the history of a house to get you started and provide information for you to continue your search.

Researching the history of a house

Researching the history of a house or other building can take you on a fascinating journey. The first task when researching the history of a house is to ask some basic questions:

  • when was this house built?
  • what did it look like originally?
  • who lived in the house before us?

If you own the house you can begin by checking the deeds. These may be held by a solicitor or mortgage company and may give a description of the house, its position, the dimensions of the plot and names of the recent owners.

You can also talk to the estate agent or the neighbours and find out any anecdotal information about the building. Oral history, especially from residents of the same street or village, can give some leads. The previous occupants of the house may be willing to help.

Further research sources

For more in-depth research, you will have to search local records at your local library or the county record office. Use their catalogues and indexes to search for information and ask the staff for advice.

Histories of architecture show how building styles can date a house. There may be dating evidence on your house if you know what to look for.

Local and village histories or surveys of historic buildings could identify a house or its inhabitants. The Buildings of England series by Nicolas Pevsner describes public and private buildings.

The Department of the Environment statutory list and the national record of listed buildings reports on the architecture and the historic interest of notable buildings of every decade.

The Builder illustrations index from 1843-1883, compiled by Robert Thorne and Ruth Richardson (1994), may be useful. A county index is also available.

The local press often contains sale notices detailing property for sale or rent. It can also include auction records, advertisements by developers and estate agents and planning application notices.

Trade directories published in the provinces from the eighteenth century may be useful. These are guides to local towns and villages, their inhabitants and businesses. Trade directories can be helpful in tracing the history of houses and commercial establishments through the names of the residents and owners. Some directories are arranged by street.

Census enumerators' returns from 1841 onwards provide the information listed by the local parish, with street indexes for some larger towns. From the census, the researcher can examine in greater or lesser detail the history of families, where they lived and in what circumstances.

Sales catalogues can give a description, often with an illustration, of a property at one particular moment. If the same house goes on the market regularly, the resultant sales catalogues can become a social history of the building.

From the 1840s onwards, professional photographers took photos of towns and villages, country landscapes with houses and cottages in the background scene. Postcards from the late 1890s onwards often depict homes and official buildings, as do some aerial photographs.

Ordnance Survey maps and plans are also good resources. Six-inch maps were introduced to Britain in the 1840s. The first edition of 25-inch Ordnance Survey plans, published from 1853, can indicate land use, field names and acreages. Over the next 40 years, survey plans were produced of British towns with populations of over 4,000. These show house plans in some detail and can give an approximate date of construction.

Partial runs of local electoral registers may be available. Longer and more complete runs will be found in the county record office. Electoral registers will list occupants. Before 1928 not everyone was qualified to vote, so earlier lists, starting in 1832, should be used carefully, remembering that house names and numbers are not always noted.

Historic newspaper collections

Libraries in North Yorkshire continue to collect and preserve local newspapers, including the free advertisers. Newspapers are a great source of information for the local historian. In the pages of local newspapers, researchers can discover the circumstances behind the lives of individuals within the community, such as births and deaths, reports of crimes, leisure activities, agricultural prices, the coming of the railways, emigration and war.

View historical newspaper collections we hold

Libraries in North Yorkshire continue to collect and preserve all local newspapers, including the free advertisers. Major historical files include the following  - earliest date shown:

Local library Newspaper title
Harrogate library Harrogate Advertiser (1836)
Malton library Malton Messenger (1854) and Yorkshire Gazette (1819)
Northallerton library Darlington and Stockton Times (1847)
Scarborough library Scarborough Evening News (1886), Scarborough Gazette (1847) and Scarborough Mercury (1855)
Selby library Selby Times (1869)
Skipton library Craven Herald (1854) and Craven Pioneer(1861)
Whitby library Whitby Gazette (1854)

Many more newspapers are stored on microfilm or microfiche. Some titles are held in the original form before they are microfilmed as part of an on-going preservation program. These local newspapers include (earliest date shown):

Local library Newspaper title
Harrogate library Harrogate Herald (1980)
Knaresborough library Knaresborough Post (1996)
Malton library Gazette and Herald (1990) and Ryedale Star (1995)
Northallerton library Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough) (1970); North Yorkshire Advertiser (1997); North Yorkshire News (1980); Northallerton, Thirsk and Bedale Times (1977); and Northern Echo (1938)
Nidderdale Plus library Pateley Bridge and Nidderdale Herald (1863)
Ripon library Ripon Gazette (1866)
Scarborough library Bridlington Free Press (1985), Filey and Hunmanby Mercury (1990), Ryedale Citizen (1993), Ryedale Mercury (1983), Scarborough Citizen (1987), Scarborough Town Crier (1998) and Trader (Scarborough) (1981)
Selby library Selby and District Herald (1990), Selby Chronicle (1991), Selby Express (1872), Selby Gazette and Herald (1975), Selby Post (1986), Selby Star (1989), Tadcaster News (1979) and Yorkshire Evening Press (Selby edition) (1983)
Tadcaster library Wetherby, Boston and Tadcaster News (1993)

Most of the local newspapers are available on microfilm at the relevant library. It is important to reserve a microfilm reader in advance of a visit. The main reference libraries have a microfilm reader-printer and copies of the newspaper entries can be made for a small charge.

You can find more information about historical newspapers in the following publications:

  • An introduction to using newspapers by Colin Chapman
  • Local newspapers 1750-1920 by Jeremy Gibson
  • Family history from newspapers by Eve McLaughlin
  • Newspapers and local history by Michael Murphy

Electoral records, or poll books

Poll books are published records of people who voted in county elections along with details of which candidate or candidates they had voted for. They were introduced in 1696 and ceased after secret balloting was introduced by the Act of 1872.

Several libraries in North Yorkshire store poll books, along with the county record office. A full list of the poll books we store can be found below, listed by date.

The listings in poll books are usually by parish. Before universal suffrage was introduced in 1928 the franchise was based on land or property ownership, so poll books only list those who fall into this class.

Where to view electoral records, or poll books, that we hold

Location Poll book and date
Harrogate library

West Riding election: 1741, 1801, 1835, 1837, 1841 and 1848

Yorkshire: 1807

Leeds Borough Constituency: 1868

Malton library Malton, Norton and surrounding villages (photocopy from the Yorkshire Poll Book): 1742 and 1807
Northallerton library Yorkshire (reprint): 1741-42
North Yorkshire county record office

Yorkshire: 1727 and 1734

North Riding election: 1835

Pickering library Yorkshire: 1807
Scarborough library

Burgess roll of the Borough of Scarborough: 1836-37 and 1869-70

Scarborough Borough Constituency - list of voters for the Borough of Scarborough: 1852

Scarborough Borough Constituency - list of voters in Falsgrave and Scarborough: 1859

Scarborough Borough Constituency: 1867

Scarborough Parliamentary election - a list of the electors: 1868 

Borough of Scarborough - number of Parliamentary voters: 1893-94

Selby library

Yorkshire: 1741-42

West Riding election: 1835 and 1837

Skipton library

Yorkshire: 1741-42

Skipton Division register of voters: 1885-86

Special collections

The library service holds a number of special collections. These have a unique value, especially, but not exclusively, in the field of local studies.

Borrowing material from the special collections

There are separate conditions for borrowing from each collection, dependent on the material included. However, you can see the material in the library, in some cases by appointment. Specific conditions are provided with the details of each collection below.

Caving and potholing collection, Skipton library

This collection consists of current and back runs of periodicals on caving and potholing. These are interfiled with other periodicals. Current titles still being taken are the Craven Pothole Club Record 1986-present.

Several closed runs of periodicals are still available for consultation including:

  • British Cave Research Association Bulletins (1974-1981)
  • Cave and Karst Science (1947-2000, formerly Cave Science and incorporating the Journal of the British Speleological Association) and transactions of the British Cave Research Association
  • Craven Pothole Club Journal (1949-1985)
  • Moldywarps Speleological Group newsletter (1976-1987, four issues)
  • Northern Caving (1964)
  • Speleological Abstracts (1962-1967)
  • Studies in Speleology (1964-1967, 1983-1987, 1991) and
  • White Rose Pothole Club (1961-1964)

The collection is housed at Skipton reference library and is available for research purposes by prior appointment.

Craven naturalists' collection, Skipton library

This collection comprises around 70 items, including:

  • (Yorkshire) Naturalist (1885-present), deposited by the Craven Naturalists' and Scientific Association along with a cabinet in which to house the volumes
  • Yorkshire Naturalists' Union Bulletins (1984-present), a growing collection donated by the Yorkshire Naturalists Association and
  • Yorkshire Naturalists' Ornithological Reports (1965-present), a growing collection donated by the Yorkshire Naturalists Association

The collection is housed at Skipton reference library and is available for research purposes by prior appointment.

Douglas Atkinson photographic collection, Ripon library

This is a collection of negatives. Douglas Atkinson was a local photographer who found a collection of glass negatives in a skip behind a chemist's shop in Ripon. The photographs had been taken in the nineteenth century by Bulmer Rudd.

Mr Atkinson added to the collection by taking photographs of the same views in the 1950s and 1960s.

This collection is part of a larger collection of negatives, glass negatives and slides, which were donated to Ripon library by the Yorkshire Film Archive. There is an index to the collection in the main library. The negatives are held in Ripon library workroom. Please contact Ripon library for details.

Kruckenberg photographic collection, Harrogate library

Louisa Kruckenberg (1885-1958) was a talented amateur photographer who documented farming life and the activities of her father's parishioners in the area around Dunsforth, near Great Ouseburn.

After her death, the County library service acquired an album holding around 220 of her postcards. The collection is housed at Harrogate reference library and is available for research purposes by prior appointment. There is a card index of the collection.

A set of photographic reproductions of these illustrations is also held at Boroughbridge library. More recently, a collection of her work on glass negatives has been housed by the library service and we are beginning to provide access to these.

Many of these photographs have been digitised through the Unnetie Digitisation Project, funded by the New Opportunities Fund.

Mineral waters and spas collection, Harrogate library

This is a collection of approximately 600 volumes concerned with all aspects of the history of spas and watering places and the use of medieval waters in medicine and therapy. Examples include Spadacrene Anglica, or the English Spaw 1626 by Edmund Deane, and Essai sur les eaux minerales 1810 by E J B Bouillon-Lagrange.

The collection is housed at Harrogate reference library and is available for research purposes only during normal opening hours.

Northern mine research society publications, Skipton library

The Northern Mine Research Society began as the Northern Cavern and Mine Research Society, publishing transactions, newsletters, memoirs and an individual survey series (monographs) from 1960-1974. In 1974 it became the Northern Mine Research Society, publishing the British Mining series of monographs, memoirs and reports.

Skipton library holds most of the run of the society's publications up to the year 2000 and takes every opportunity to fill any gaps.

The collection is housed at Skipton reference library and is available for research purposes by prior appointment. An index to articles in the society's publications 1960-1991 is available.

Pratt collection, Northallerton library

The Stokesley printing collection was formerly the property of D W Richardson. It was housed at Stokesley library from 1978, but has now been moved to Northallerton library. The collection consists of about 200 items, mostly books, printed in Stokesley during the mid to late nineteenth century. The bulk of the collection was printed by J S Pratt, but other printers such as W F Pratt, Tweddell and Sons and W Braithwaite also feature.

The authors include famous names such as Victor Hugo and Oliver Goldsmith and the works range from the romantic Rosina or the Village Maid by L Jones (pr. J S Pratt, 1843) to The Modern Farrier by G L Lowson (pub. Jones and Co, pr. W F Pratt, 1837).

Included in the collection is a series of tracts called Free Thought in Stokesley, which must be unique. 

For more details of Pratt see Printing and Publishing in Stokesley by Daphne Franks, Stokesley and District Local History Group, 1984.

The collection is housed at Northallerton library with a small number at Stokesley library and is available for research purposes by prior appointment. A list of authors, titles and printers is available.

Prescott collection, Scarborough library

This is a collection of hand-written files, complemented by programmes and photographs, devoted to aspects of the development of Scarborough in the period 1840-1970. The collection is devised principally from local newspaper files.

The collection is housed in a locked cabinet in a non-public area of Scarborough library and is available for research purposes by prior appointment only.

Raistrick collection, Skipton library

Dr Arthur Raistrick (1896-1991) lived in Linton-in-Craven near Grassington and was renowned for his work in the fields of archaeology  - especially industrial archaeology - and geology.

The collection is made up of:

  • a selection of Dr Raistrick's own papers and documents, including many original leases, wills, indentures, overseers' papers, mining records, and other manuscripts relating to Yorkshire (West and North Ridings); and
  • a selection of Dr Raistrick's own published writings, including eleven books, but mainly articles in pamphlet form.

The collection is housed at Skipton library.There is a printed holdings list for Dr Raistrick's own papers and documents, a holdings list of documents from this collection transferred to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum and a comprehensive bibliography of Dr Raistrick's published work compiled by Trevor Croucher. Not all works mentioned in the bibliography are held by Skipton library. The manuscript collection is only available for research purposes by prior appointment. 

Rowley collection, Skipton library

Dr Rowley was a local historian who wrote books on Skipton and the surrounding area. After his death, his wife donated his collection of mainly handwritten material and notes to the library, together with a cabinet in which to house them.

The collection consists of pamphlets; maps; printed and handwritten historical study notes on central Skipton properties; articles; other writings; and some original manuscripts and annotated plans of the central Skipton area. There are also photographs in 13 boxes  - around 140 in each box. Around 500 of these photographs have been digitised, with the permission of Mrs Rowley. These are displayed on the Rowley Photographic Collection website.

The collection is housed in the Rowley Cabinet at Skipton library. There is a handwritten list of contents and the illustrations/slides boxes are labelled (for example, one box says "Skipton High Street"). Please contact Skipton library for details.

Scarborough archives and school archives, Scarborough library

Scarborough library houses a collection of minute books, deeds, letters and other content relevant to Scarborough and deposited by various people over many years.

There is also a collection of minute books and log books of primary and secondary schools in Scarborough deposited by the divisional education office several years ago.

Serjeantson papers, Skipton library

These are archival manuscripts referring to Hanlith Hall, estates at Carthorpe, Calton and Hanlith and Camp Hill Hall near Bedale. They were deposited with the library by a descendant of the Serjeantson family, who lived in Hanlith from the fourteenth century onwards. The bulk of the Serjeantson manuscript collection is presumed to be still at Hanlith Hall. The papers consist mainly of deeds of sale.

The collection is housed at Skipton library and is available for research purposes by prior appointment only. There is an 11-page typescript hand-list of the 88 items.

Sitwell collection, Scarborough library

Scarborough library features a collection of reserve copies of books by and about the Sitwells.

Susan Brooks papers, Skipton library

Susan Brooks was the author of a history of Grassington published by the Dalesman in 1979. These papers constitute her working notes on original documents used in research for the book. They also refer to other Wharfedale villages as well as to Grassington.

The collection is housed at Skipton library and is available for research purposes by prior appointment. A hand-list of contents is available.

Unné illustrations collection, North Yorkshire County Record Office

Bertram Unné, AIIP, ARPS (1913-1981) was a Yorkshire photographer, active at Harrogate studios from the 1940s until his retirement in 1979.

In the course of his professional life, Unné amassed a considerable archive of negatives and contact prints of Yorkshire landscapes, which was his speciality.

North Yorkshire library service acquired the Unné archive in 1979 with the assistance of grants from the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Library. At present, the Unné collection includes:

  • an indexed and numbered sequence of 9,360 negative envelopes
  • 1,343 mounted prints, also indexed and
  • several boxes of negatives containing 180 glass plates

Further boxes contain about 2,000 un-catalogued prints.

The value of the Unné collection lies in its rich record of Yorkshire village and country life in the period between 1940 and 1980. Some 7,500 images from this collection were digitised as part of the Unnetie Digitisation Project, funded by the New Opportunities Fund and North Yorkshire county libraries, archives and arts.

The collection is housed at the county record office and is available for viewing by prior appointment. There is an index of names, places and subjects. You can visit the Unnetie Digitisation Project website for more details.

Oceanic reading room, Whitby library

New Zealand artist Ahilapalapa (Ahi) Rands created the Oceanic reading room, in Whitby library, as part of a project coinciding with the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific. Her exhibition introduced visitors to new ways in which knowledge and learning is gathered and shared by some of the indigenous peoples from the Pacific Islands. It took the form of film, plants, maps, books, quotations and interviews and the creation of a library within a library, a comfortable and welcoming space in which to explore art, science and research from a non-Western perspective.

Her work challenged the popular image of Cook as hero and explored the wider and continuing impact his voyage had on the peoples, cultures and environments he encountered.

The books brought together for the project are housed at Whitby library and are a valuable source of information for anyone looking at the impact of colonisation on the Pacific.

Research service

Library staff will research your enquiry for up to 30 minutes without charge.

We can research a wide range of subjects and aim to provide a response or acknowledgement within five working days of your request.

Some services may incur charges, such as if the research takes more than 30 minutes or staff members copy, print or scan items. See the library charges page for more details.