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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.

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 alternate Fridays, 10am-noon.


The next drop-in session will take place on 13 March 2020.


For more information, phone 023 9268 8046.

Portsmouth Museums hold an Oral History collection which contains over 1,670 interviews on a wide variety of subjects connected to the city of Portsmouth.


You can search the oral history collection online or access the recordings at the Portsmouth History Centre.

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.

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.


We will ask you to sign a copyright declaration form before we can send you copies of any material in copyright.


Searches cost £14 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, print and complete the Postal Research Service Application Form and send to the address on the form, along with the appropriate fee.


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.

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.


Full guide to the History Centre's local history collections at Central Library

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. 

Guide to Local History Resources at Central Library

Postal Research Service Application Form


Downloadable resources

Parish Register Guide - Registers of Roman Catholic and NonConformist Churches

The Portsmouth Encyclopaedia - A history of places and people in Portsmouth, with an index to streets

Tracing house and building history at Portsmouth History Centre