Library resources on family, local and naval historyLast updated: 25 October 2013 10:22 UK
Portsmouth History Centre at the central library is the place to investigate local history, whether you want to find out more about Portsmouth down the ages, explore your own family history or are interested in the naval history of the area, especially Portsmouth's connection with Admiral Lord Nelson.
Visit our History Centre page for opening times and facilities at the centre.
Researching local history at central library
The local history collection contains 20,000 books and other items about Hampshire, West Sussex and the Isle of Wight. You can download the full guide to the History Centre's local history collections at the bottom of the page, but it includes directories, electoral rolls, council minutes, maps, newspapers and photographs.
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 centrury maps which can be sees at History Centre.
The encyclopaedia also contains articles about well-known locals and people connected with Portsmouth, such as Charles Dickens.
It is a work in progress and will be updated with new information.
Trace your family history in the History Centre
The genealogical collection helps anyone tracing a family tree, and guides you to records and information held elsewhere.
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), census returns (England and Wales, 1841-1911) and many other records.
Births, marriages and deaths indices are also available on microfiches, 1837-2000, along with the International Genealogical Index (index to baptisms and marriages, 1538 onwards), the National Probate calendars (wills) 1858-1943, and Portsmouth and South East Hampshire census returns, 1841-1901 (earlier years on microfilm).
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, Coats of Arms, Commonwealth War Graves Commission Lists.
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 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
There are two postal services available for people investigating their family or local history. History Centre staff can either check resources free of charge for up to half-an-hour, or will check for up to three hours for a fee, payable in advance.
The resources they can search include:
- births, marriages, deaths and wills indices
- International Genealogical Index
- directories and electoral registers
- census returns, the army/navy/air force lists
- newspapers, illustrations and maps
- books about places and subjects in Hampshire, West Sussex and the Isle of Wight.
We will ask you to sign a copyright declaration form before we can send you copies of any material in copyright.
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.