Historical records

Referencing archives

What is a reference code and why is it necessary?

A Reference code is the unique code of the individual document or series of associated documents.

A reference code may be numeric (only numbers) or alpha-numeric (a combination of numbers and letters). From 2000, all reference codes are in numeric format and comprise three parts. For example, 2015/77/86 refers to file 86 from the Office of the Secretary General to the President, which was the 77th transfer to the National Archives in 2015. Older material may be in alpha-numeric format. For example, CSO/RP/1822/17 refers to file 17 from the Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers for 1822.

It is necessary to provide a unique reference code to every record transferred to the National Archives to protect the security of the document and to avoid duplication of numbers that can lead to unnecessary complications and confusion for researchers and staff alike.

How are records catalogued in the National Archives?

The National Archives catalogues material in line with the current international standard for archival description (ISAD (G)). This standard, which was developed by the International Council on Archives, ensures that certain information is captured allowing researchers to determine if a record will be useful to their research.

The type of information captured includes a unique reference code, a title and covering dates (open and closure dates). It may also include an expanded description of the content of the record and an original reference code.

For example:

Reference code Original reference code Series Title Scope and Content Covering dates Extent Creator [Original name of creating department]
2017/11/629 S 24240 Central Registry King Juan Carlos of Spain state visit to Ireland, 30 June – 3 July 1986. Includes notes on meetings and discussions in preparation for the visit; drafts of guest list for both King and Queen of Spain luncheons and state dinners; list of suggested gifts; proposed menus for luncheons and state dinners. Jun 1985-Feb 1987 1 file Department of the Taoiseach
How do I cite a file?

Only records that meet this standard are searchable in the online catalogue. All material transferred to the National Archives in the past 18 years meets this standard and is searchable in the online catalogue. For records transferred before this date, or for private and business collections, it will be necessary to refer to hardcopy catalogues available in the reading room.

Each file held by the National Archives has a unique reference code, which should be used in citations by researchers.

For departmental files transferred in the past 18 years this reference code will be a 3-part numerical code.

These files should be cited as follows:

For example:

NAI, 2017/11/478

This is file 478 from the 11th body to transfer records for release in January 2018. This file is titled Product Safety Bill, 1987 and was transferred by the Department of the Taoiseach in 2017.

For earlier material an alpha-numeric or descriptive reference code should be used.

For example:

NAI, TSCH/3/S855

This refers to a Central Registry file from the Department of Taoiseach, and its predecessor the Department of the President of the Executive Council, dating from 1922 to 1982. The file in question is titled Teaching of Irish language in National Schools: Public Notice No. 4, Feb 1922 – Mar 1922.

NAI, ED/1/23/9

This refers to an application to the Commissioners of National Education for inclusion in the newly-established national school system by Ballylawn male and female national school, County Donegal, dating from 1832.

NAI, OPW/5HC/4/1

This refers to architectural drawings of proposed married quarters in Islandbridge military barracks [Clancy Barracks], signed by officers of the Royal Engineers in 1860.

NAI, CS/HC/Summary Summons 1936/file 1051

This refers to file 1051, which is a Summary Summons file from the High Court in 1936.

NAI, CS/CP/GY/Publicans’ Licences: notices; registers, 1909

This refers to a register of publicans’ licences from the Galway Crown and Peace court (the precursor to the modern Circuit Court) in 1909.

NAI, CS/CP/GY/Civil Bill Book 1889/case name

This refers to a civil case held in the Galway Crown and Peace court (the precursor to the modern Circuit Court) in 1889.

How do I cite a document within a file?

For documents found within a file, researchers should provide the title of the document and the full reference code for the file.

For example:

Letter, dated 23 July 1963, from President John F Kennedy to Taoiseach Seán Lemass, found in NAI, TSCH/3/S17401.

This letter from President Kennedy thanking Seán Lemass for his hospitality during his state visit is found in Department of Taoiseach central registry file NAI, TSCH/3/S17401.

How can I find a file I have consulted previously?

Researchers are advised to retain the white tracking docket, which is attached to each file consulted by researchers in the reading room, until their research is complete. This white tracking docket is returned to researchers once the file is scanned back at the Returns Desk. This document will contain the reference code of the file in question.

It is also important to make a note of any file reference when consulting a file or extracting information or a quotation from a record. This is particularly important for researchers undertaking research over a protracted period of time, such as a PhD. It is very difficult for both staff and researchers to locate records referred to if the researcher has failed to make a proper note of the records they have consulted.

The reference code quoted in a book is different to the one used by the National Archives. Which one should I use?

When referencing material held in the National Archives researchers should use the reference code stipulated in the online catalogue or hard copy finding aids. Researchers should not use reference codes referred to in publications unless they are correct and mirror the reference code stipulated in our catalogues. Material is often cited incorrectly in publications and can lead to unnecessary difficulties in ordering a file. The definitive version is the reference code cited by the National Archives and should be used to prevent any perpetuation of inaccurate information. If researchers are in doubt please consult with the Archivist on Duty in the reading room or Contact Us.

I can’t locate a file quoted in a publication?

The most common reason for not locating a file cited in a publication is the use of an inaccurate or incorrect reference code. This occurs frequently and can lead to unnecessary complications for both National Archives staff and researchers. It is vital that researchers check the accuracy of their citations before publishing any material.

The publication may be referencing a document located within a file. In this instance, it will be necessary for the researcher to search through the file in question to locate the document.

The location of the file may have been cited incorrectly. Is the record in question held by the National Archives? Could it be held by a different archival institution in Ireland or further afield. This occurs on occasion, particularly with reference to records relating to Ireland prior to foundation of the State or to private collections such as landed estate records. Sometimes material has been incorrectly cited as being located in Dublin when in fact it is located in the UK National Archives (TNA) in London or the National Library of Ireland.

Where a researcher is having difficulty it is advisable to consult with the Archivist on Duty in the reading room or to Contact Us.

How do I search for records in the online catalogue?

For further information of using the online catalogue see FAQ.

Any other advice?

It is essential that researchers maintain an accurate record of all documents they have accessed while undertaking research in any archival repository. Failure to do so often leads to unnecessary complications further down the track. It is very common for researchers to approach staff in the National Archives seeking to access individual documents they may have viewed years previously. Researchers should be aware that an innocuous note may become a vital component of their thesis later on.

The National Archives lists the majority of its collections by file title. This is particularly true for records of government. This means that documents within a file are not given an individual reference code. It is essential that researchers referencing individual documents within a file keep an accurate record of the file title and file reference code in order to provide relevant context to the document.

For further information on undertaking archival research in the National Archives see Getting started with archival research.