September 28, 2021

York City Archives And York Reference Library Merge

Earlier this year York reference library temporarily closed to allow the upgrading of the general library on the floor below to what is known now as The Explore York Learning Centre.

Now, the pros and cons of this change to the library were not uppermost in my mind, it was the worry that the excellent facilities and atmosphere of the reference library would be changed or worse lost.

During the close down, the reference library was to be located with the York City Archives located next to the Art Gallery in Exhibition Square. I’m afraid I didn’t visit during this period but was still anxious to see what happened when the York Explore opened again.

Well, the opening happened quite recently and York reference library has opened again with the added advantage that York City Archives have been merged with it. So, I popped down the other day to see how this was getting on.

It seems an uneasy alliance! The reference library facilities have been moved around and so have the staff. The York City Archives has been put in where the reference library maps, microfiche, microfilm and other facilities were and these have been moved to the main room. There still seemed to be planty of large tables to study on but there seemed less space for the microfiche and microfilm viewers.

To me it had the air of a strained relationship that had been pulled together reluctantly, but I hope with time that these reluctant partners see the benefits of the merger.

So this is what is now to be found at The York Archives and Local History Collection above York Explore in Museum Street, according to York Council website:

What’s in the Archives and Local History collections

Our greatest strength is our coverage of the past 800 years. This is the period for which we not only have books but also have preserved original archival documents created by generations of York’s citizens as they went about their daily business. The list below is just a selection – please contact us for more details.

Books and periodicals

Over 20,000 published books and titles concerning the natural and human history of York and the surrounding area, together with local magazines and journals such as the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, The Yorkshire Dalesman, Yorkshire Life, the Yorkshire Journal, Thoresby Society publications and publications by local societies and parish magazines.


The earliest York newspaper in the collection is the York Courant of 1728. From this year up to the present, there is a continuous run of newspapers. Titles include the Yorkshire Gazette, the York Herald, and the Yorkshire Evening Press. There is an index to the newspapers of York people and business and also an index by subject.

Maps and plans

Maps and plans showing the development of York from the 17th century to modern-day Ordnance Survey maps in a variety of scales. The earliest map in the collection is John Speed’s Plan of York in 1610.

Genealogical resources

We hold a large variety of family history resources including the England & Wales Civil Registration Index of Births, Marriages & Deaths from 1837 to 2001 on microfilm; The International Genealogical Index (also known as the Mormon Index as it is compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) containing birth and marriage details from selected parish registers of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland; Boyd’s Marriage Index for Yorkshire 1539-1837 and York Marriage Index for 1701-1837; and online access to the Ancestry website containing the civil registration index, census records and much more.

Parish registers

The collection contains copies of the registers of most York ecclesiastical parishes (the originals for these are held at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.) Yorkshire parishes whose registers have been published by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society are also available. A useful finding aid is Phillimore’s Atlas and Index of Parish Registers.

Census enumerators returns

The returns from the parishes of York and the surrounding area are on microfilm every 10 years 1841 – 1891. The 1881 census Index for England and Wales is also kept on microfiche and on CD-ROM. The 1901 census returns from York and the surrounding area are available on microfiche.

Poll books and electoral registers

These record the names of those eligible to vote. There are poll books for 18th and 19th century York and Yorkshire and electoral registers for the City of York from 1832 until the present day.


York trade directories date from 1781 and are available until 1975 when the last one was produced. There are also directories for the North, East and West Ridings from 1822. From 1975 onwards we hold copies of Yellow Pages.


The “Imagine York” website holds 5,500 digitised images from the city of York collections and those of The Press and Northern Echo newspapers.

York civic archives

The official archives of how York’s people have governed their city. The civic archives begin with the Henry II charter in 1155. The York Memorandum Book (A/Y) is the earliest record of Council meetings and provides an unparalleled view of life in 14th and 15th century York. From 1476 to the present day we have a record of every single meeting of the City Council in a continuous series of House Books & Minute Books.

A record of everyone who was made a Freeman or who served an Apprenticeship in York, from the 13th century to the present day.

A collection of over 12,000 Architects and Engineers plans, dating from the 1850s, and charting in unparalleled detail, the development of modern day York.

The Poor Law collection dates from the 1830s to the foundation of the welfare state in 1942, and contains records of all people who entered the Workhouse in York in this time.

The majority of extant historic schools registers for York.

Private archives

York Cemetery Records – an excellent resource for family history research.

The main collection of letters to and from York artist William Etty.

The astronomers John Goodricke and Edward Pigott lived and worked in York during the 1780s. During this time they effectively laid the foundations for modern measurement of the universe. York City Archives holds the main collection of their manuscripts, which gives fascinating insights into their work. Their journals and notebooks help us to feel Goodricke and Piggott’s enthusiasm for their subject, and to understand the importance of their discoveries.

It really is a great set of information now all in one place and I’m sure the layout and usabilty will improve as time goes on. I hope so as I have call to use all these records at some time another when carrying out local research in York.

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