The National Archives at Kew

The National Archives (formerly the Public Records Office-PRO) is the official archive for the United Kingdom government and contains historical records that span a millennium. The National Archives holds several records for Jamaica given that the island remained a British colony for 300+ years. Some of these records may hold the key to your family tree.

Although records can be You can visit the National Archives at Kew in person as it is open to the public free of cost. However, you will need to provide proof of your identity The postal address of the archives is: The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. The records can also be accessed on-line upon request (see details below).


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You can get to the Archives via tube or bus if you do not have a car:

Tube

The nearest Tube station is Kew Gardens (zone 3) on the District Line, Richmond branch. The journey from central London takes around 40 minutes. The National Archives is 600 metres (a 10-minute walk) from Kew Gardens station.

Bus

The R68 bus route (from Hampton Court via Richmond) terminates by the entrance to The National Archives. Other routes stopping nearby include:

* 65 (Ealing to Kingston via Richmond), alight on Kew Road near Victoria Gate (15-minute walk)
* 237 (Shepherd’s Bush to Hounslow Heath via Chiswick), alight at Kew Bridge (20-minute walk)
* 267 (Hammersmith to Fulwell via Brentford), alight at Kew Bridge (20-minute walk)
* 391 (Fulham to Richmond via Hammersmith), alight at Sandycombe Road near Kew Gardens station (10-minute walk)

The opening hours for the Archives are as follows:

Hours:

Mon, Sun Closed
Tue, Thu 9am–7pm
Wed, Fri-Sat 9am–5pm

In order to request documents from the PRO you need to understand how to cite records held in the Archives. Each document has a reference code that has 3 parts. The first part is the Department code which consists of one or more capital letters e.g. CO. The second part is the Series number which is a set of numbers that are separated from the department code by a space e.g CO 137. The last part of the document reference is the Piece Number which usually appears as numbers but letters can be included. This number represents where the document is within a series of documents and is seperated from the document code by a forward slash/stroke “/” e.g CO 137/1.

The types of records held in the National Archives for Jamaica include the following:

  • Original Correspondences – These essentially letters sent the Colonial Office from governors and other officials related to a colony.
  • Entry Books – These a correspondences, reports, commissions, etc. sent from the Colonial Office to governors and other government officials of a colony.
  • Acts – These acts or ordinances related land sales, debt, emigration/deportation/immigration for each island/colony, manumission of slaves, naturalization of individuals
  • Session Papers – documentation of proceedings of the executive and legal councils for the government of colonies.
  • Register of Out Letter - similar to Entry books
  • Land Grants 
  • Censuses
  • Slave Registry
  • Returns of Baptisms
  • Miscellaneous Documents
  • Wills
  • Blue Books – Statisical information from each colony e.g population
  • Newspapers – Publication archives

The following list is not all-inclusive but details the actual records held in the National Archive on Jamaica:

  1. CO 137 - Colonial Office and predecessors: Jamaica, Original Correspondence covering dates 1689 – 1951. These are bound volumes arranged chronologically. These records are related to these subjects: housing, land use, water supply, labour relations, financial administration, agricultural development,health services, Colonial Development and Welfare Act 1940,
    disaster relief, constitutional development, educational development, sugar industry, banana industry
  2. CO 138 - This series contains entry books relating to Jamaica, Entry Books for the years 1661-1872.
  3. CO 139 - This series contains acts passed by the government of Jamaica 1662-1962.
  4. CO 140 - This series contains sessional papers from Jamaica 1661-1965.
  5. CO 141 - This series contains government gazettes from Jamaica 1794-1968.
  6. CO 142 - This series contains miscellanea from Jamaica. Comprises newspapers, shipping returns and blue books of statistics, etc 1658-1945.
  7. CO 217 -
  8. CO 267/111 - Census of Population and liberated Africans (Sierra Leone) 1831.
  9. CO 267/127 - Census of Population and liberated Africans (Sierra Leone) 1832-1834.
  10. CO 267/203 – Inhabitants of Sierra Leone 1848.
  11. CO 267/207 - Inhabitants of Sierra Leone 1849.
  12. CO 318 – Correspondences related to East Indian Indentured Labourers 1843 to 1875.
  13. CO 323 -  Applications for passports 1689-1952.
  14. CO 351 - This series contains registers of correspondence relating to Jamaica 1850-1951.
  15. CO 384 - Correspondences related to East Indian Indentured Labourers to the West Indies
  16. CO 385 – Emigration Entry books
  17. CO 386 – Includes registers of births and deaths of emigrants at sea 1854-1869, lists of ships chartered 1847-1875, registers of surgeons appointed 1854-1894.
  18. CO 494 - This series contains registers of out-letters relating to Jamaica 1872-1926.
  19. FO 314 –  This series contains letter and minute books of the Jamaica Slave Trade Commission 1843-1851.
  20. CO 441 - This series contains records of the West Indian Incumbered Estates Commission. Comprises journals, entry and other books, accounts and vouchers, correspondence, plans, deeds and papers of the Commission. The surname of the owner given in the piece description represents the short title of each case. It is followed by the name of the estate.
  21. CO 571 - This series contains correspondence of the General Department concerning the entry of Indian indentured labour into the West Indies 1913-1920.
  22. T47/9-11 - Weekly emigration returns (including persons travelling to Jamaica) 1773-1776.
  23. T47/12 - Emigration Returns, Scotland to Americas 1890-1960. The lists are arranged under the names of the ports of departure.
  24. T 71 - Registers of the Office for the Registry of Colonial Slaves, 1813 to 1834, most of which are indexed under the names of the owners or plantations; and records of the Slave Compensation Commission, comprising the proceedings of the assistant commissioners who were sent to the several colonies, valuers’ returns, registers of claims with indexes, original claims and certificates, counter-claims, adjudications in contested cases, certificates for compensation and lists of awards, commissioners’ hearing notes and minutes, accounts, etc. Contains approx. 1631 volume(s).
As mentioned earlier, the National Archives and its records are accessible online. You can request copies of documents or sections of a document in hardcopy, CD or by download for a fee. To access the website catalogue navigate to http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/default.asp?j=1. Enter your search phrases or document reference as shown below: