Resources on family, local and naval historyLast updated: 20 December 2013 11:10 UK
Portsmouth History Centre at the central library is the place to investigate local history, whether you want to find out more about Portsmouth through the ages, or explore your own family history. There is also an extensive naval collection, with an emphasis on the history of the Royal Navy.
Visit our History Centre page for opening times and facilities at the centre.
Researching local history at central library
The City Archive holds the official records of Portsmouth City Council which survive from the 14th century; local Anglican and Non-Conformist church registers and records from the 16th century; large collections of material deposited by local businesses, families and other organisations as well as thousands of local maps and plans, photographs and picture postcards.
Some items in the City Archive are stored off-site and will need to be ordered in advance of a visit. For more information on ordering documents, scroll down to Document Orders on the History Centre page, or contact the History Centre.
The local history collection contains 20,000 books and other items relating to Portsmouth, with some coverage of the surrounding areas of Hampshire, West Sussex and the Isle of Wight. These include directories, electoral rolls, council minutes, maps, newspapers and photographs. You can download the full guide to the History Centre's local history collections at the bottom of the page.
The Portsmouth Encyclopaedia
Download the Portsmouth Encyclopaedia below to look up streets, courts and alleys in Portsmouth, as well as places like schools, churches and public houses, particularly those in the second half of the nineteenth century. In many cases there are references to nineteenth century maps which can be seen at the History Centre.
The encyclopaedia also contains articles about well-known locals and people connected with Portsmouth, such as Charles Dickens.
Trace your family history in the History Centre
Portsmouth Library card holders can use computers in the History Centre to access family history websites free of charge, including Ancestry and Findmypast. These include indexes to births, marriages and deaths (England & Wales, 1837-2006), National Probate calendars, census returns (England and Wales, 1841-1911) and many other records. Microfiche or microfilm copies of some of these records are also available in the centre if required.
Parish records (baptisms, marriages and burials) for the Diocese of Portsmouth are available on microfiche, and some of these have been indexed by name on card and computer. Indexes to cemetery burials are also available.
The book collection is extensive and includes guides to using records and constructing a family tree, Army, Navy and Air Force Lists, Clergy Lists, books about the Census, Domesday Book, genealogical periodicals, place and personal names, heraldry, peerages, and Coats of Arms.
Family history drop in sessions at central library
Your chance to sample some of the important family history websites under the guidance of experienced staff who can help answer any questions.
Come to the IT Learning Zone on third floor of the central library on Mondays 2.15-4.15pm. For more information, phone 023 9268 8046.
Portsmouth's naval history collection
Portsmouth's naval collection is the largest in any public library in Great Britain.
There are 15,000 books and a large number of American publications (with some available to borrow), covering navies throughout history, and some from other parts of the world. The collection includes the Lily Lambert McCarthy collection, which is mainly concerned with Nelson and his era. In addition to the books, the Naval Collection contains:
- 2,000 indexed photographs of ships
- pamphlets and ephemera
- naval and maritime periodicals, such as Navy News from 1954 and Brassey's Naval Annual.
Postal research service for genealogy and local history
A postal research service is available for people investigating their family or local history. History Centre staff can check resources free of charge for up to half-an-hour, then check for up to three hours for a fee, payable in advance.
We may ask you to sign a copyright declaration form before we can send you copies of any material in our collections.
Searches cost £12.50 per half-hour up to three hours maximum, including postage and a limited number of photocopies, if this is the best way to get the information to you. You can pay for the research by:
- cheque, postal order or money order made payable to Portsmouth City Council
- debit or credit card over the phone (as our system is not secure, please don't email card details).
Overseas payments must be made in pounds sterling.
Postal research application form
Download the research application form below and send, with the appropriate fee, to the address above.
Try to be as specific as possible about:
- which sources you would like us to search
- dates to be covered
- the object of the research.
We strongly advise you to check in advance that we hold the relevant material before you ask us to undertake a search, and we cannot undertake open-ended searches of newspapers.
We cannot guarantee that we can do all the work you ask for in the time you give us, or that the search will yield the information you are hoping to find.