In a jam with your genealogy? Why not ask us to help!

Our team of experts are on hand to help you solve your family history mysteries through the fantastic collections we have on offer at West Yorkshire Archive Service.

From birth records to coroner’s inquests, if it happened in West Yorkshire, our super sleuths will do their best to get to the bottom of it!

Prices start as low as £12 for 30 minutes of expert research, and our new Express Service can guarantee results delivered to you within five working days.


Are the answers to your history mysteries in here?

The Ask the Experts service has an amazing success rate, with satisfied customers including the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? – Jennie, our Research Consultant, even appearing on screen during an episode devoted to actor Sir Patrick Stewart.

Amongst many other cases, Ask the Experts has helped with:

  • A business who had found that their access route had been blocked. Using the records of the West Riding Registry of Deeds we were able to prove their right of access to their property.
  • An enquirer who needed to prove their right of title to a Manorial Lordship. Using our Express Service, we were able to supply evidence which may go towards proving their title in less than five days.
  • An enquirer who contacted us hoping to find out more about their recent family. Using a combination of online records and archives held across all of our sites we were able to find their real grandparent  -something they had searched for in vain for many years.

Applying for Ask the Experts couldn’t be easier – simply pick up an application form at any of our offices, or buy your research online via


Our Experts at work!

Once your research has been completed, you’ll be sent a typed report from our team outlining what they have found and any other ideas for further avenues to explore. If possible, you will also received up to three free copies of material found.

If you’d like to give a loved one a present of the past, we also sell Ask the Experts gift vouchers. You’ll be able to give them a voucher and welcome pack with details of our service, and one year in which to redeem the voucher and get expert help with their research.

So, why not order your expert help today? You never know what we might find….

Archives pop-up-shop!

Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at the archive service and what makes the documents we look after so special?

Find out more about archives – what they are, how the archive service looks after them and how you can use them, at our family friendly West Yorkshire Archive Service Pop-up-shop in the Ridings Centre on 21st, 22nd and 23rd August.  Drop in and explore your local history!

ImageThroughout each day there will be a range of free activities to have a go at and knowledgeable archive and conservation staff on site to answer any questions about the amazing collections that we care for.  The shop will be on the Upper Mall in Unit 102, next to’ Created in Yorkshire’, and open from 10am to 4pm each day.

Please bring your own special dates, memories and copies of photos to add to our giant West Yorkshire timeline!


A host of free fun family activities will be taking place, including making a miners Davy lamp, creating a photo album and seal making, as well as storytelling based on stories from the archive collections on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon.

There will be a chance to use to explore your family history online as well as a rare chance to see real historic documents and old photographs, including aerial photographs from West Yorkshire Archaeology Service to help visitors discover West Yorkshire through the ages.


Do you know what we have at WYAS?

Since January 2013 a whopping 47, 240 entries have been added to the WYAS collections database, and there will be thousands more soon!  There are now some 575,000 entries on the database. From the comfort of your own home you can search what we hold and who knows what you will find! 

Go on-line at and happy hunting!


Project Launched!

The Nostell Priory & Winn Family Cataloguing Project is finally underway!

This project has been funded by The National Archives’ Cataloguing Grants Programme and aims to fully catalogue one of West Yorkshire Archive Service’s most treasured and well used collections. The project will run until the end of April 2014 when a much improved catalogue will be available to greatly increase access and understanding of the records of Nostell Priory & the Winn family.

Project background

Sections of the Nostell Priory & Winn family archive have been held by WYAS in one form or another since the late 1980s. The bulk of the collection was first loaned to the service by the Winn family who wanted to preserve the records in the best possible environment while also making them available to researchers wanting to study this extensive and important collection. Since then, the size of the collection has increased dramatically as new sets of records have been discovered at Nostell and other related sites, and then added to the existing collection.

Unfortunately the rather chaotic nature of the collection’s history has also been reflected in the existing catalogue, with some sections of very detailed descriptions followed by large sections of completely uncatalogued material. At the end of 2007 WYAS acquired the vast majority of the records outright and the collection has been awaiting a concerted project to highlight the true value and extent of this unique collection ever since. Cue the Cataloguing Grants Fund bid!

Nostell Priory (General View), Yorkshire, The Seat of Charles Winn Esq. Engraving by J Neale, 1829 (WYL1352-C3-1-4-[1060])

Nostell Priory (General View), Yorkshire, The Seat of Charles Winn Esq. Engraving by J Neale, 1829 (WYL1352-C3-1-4-[1060])

A long way to go

With the project only a month in we’ve certainly got a long way to go. The first task has been trying to get our heads around the sheer size and scale of a collection that covers over 800 years of international history and takes up roughly 14 cubic meters of oversized archive boxes! And the collection is no less ambitious in the range of subjects and themes that it documents, including: kings, queens, lords, barons, servants, sheriffs, tenants, MPs, communities, art, architecture, design, furniture, fashion, food & drink, politics, war, sports, shopping, churches, schools, hospitals, medicine, railways, mining and genealogy… the list goes on and on!

The Nostell Collection in the stores at WYAS, both exciting & daunting!

The Nostell Collection in the stores at WYAS, both exciting & daunting!

What to expect over the coming months

So now that the project is underway, what can you expect to see from us? Well first and foremost the project is totally focused on creating an excellent catalogue of the entire collection which will be fully available on the WYAS online catalogue by the end of the project in April. But amongst the hours and hours… and hours! of cataloguing we will also be finding time to promote the project and this fantastic collection. You can follow the progress of the team and discover the rich history inherent to the collection on the project’s dedicated Twitter account Here we’ll be keeping you up to date on all our exciting finds, tweeting on the theme of #onthisday in Nostell history, and letting you know the details of all our outreach events. So please give us a follow and drop us a message on all things Nostell, Winn, or just to say hi!

So we’re up and running! Remember to keep checking the @nostellarchive twitter account for all developments as and when they happen and we’ll keep you informed with future blog posts on here as well.

Pudsey Family History Fair

If you were in Pudsey over the weekend then perhaps you would have seen us at the Pudsey Family History Fair. It was the place to be for up and coming historians as well as expertise knowledge from a variety of Archives and Local History Societies.

Members of the public speaking to archive staff

Members of the public speaking to archive staff

If you feel you missed out or would like to learn more about archives then we do have an ‘Introduction to Archives’ talk on 22nd May.  It includes a behind scene tour of our excellent new archive storage facility. To book a place for this event then just contact the email address below.

It was excellent to see a variety of people and the support for the Wakefield bid was immense. Thank you for all those people who filled in our visitor surveys. A ‘development grant’ was awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund to advance our ideas. Therefore it was very helpful for us to understand what you would like in an archive building and how we can make it happen. This will lead into a new building for Wakefield and West Riding Archives.  

Members of staff showing off our display. From right to left, Teresa Nixon (Head of Archives), Nicola Kenmir (Project Outreach Worker) and Alison Depledge (Archive Assistant)

Members of staff showing off our display.
From right to left, Teresa Nixon (Head of Archives), Nicola Kenmir (Project Outreach Worker) and Alison Depledge (Archive Assistant)

At the fair you had the opportunity to learn how to make a family history scrapbook. There were many guides and resources to buy to help you with your family history. As well as a sensational Victorian clothing display! We would like to see a huge thank you Jackie Depelle for organising such a fabulous event.

Victorian clothing display

Victorian clothing display

If you could not make it then don’t worry because we will be at York Family History Fair on 29th June where we can tell you all about our collections, update you on the Wakefield plans, give you free advice as well gain your valuable opinions on our archive service.

In the meantime you can always contact us, if you have any queries. Please contact us at  

Gruel, Grime, & Guardians: Poor Law and the Workhouse

Up to 1844 in Leeds the Poor Law was carried out by the Parish and Chapelry Vestries. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 resulted in the Board of Guardians being set up. In 1861 four additional unions were created within the borough. The pre 1844 records are arranged under townships, many of which were amalgamated to form Unions.  The bulk of these records came from the Leeds Public Assistance Office in 1949.

In the collection there is a variety of records such as Admission and Discharge registers, Minute books, Letters, Bastardy Orders and much more. I hope to catalogue the whole collection to make it more accessible to the public. I will also do a talk at Leeds Central Library and the Archives. This will allow researchers to gain an understanding of the records we do hold and how to use the records for their research.

An aim of mine is to write a blog on each section which will lead up to my talk in September. I have just finished cataloguing section 5 which is Relief Order Books.  Relief Order Books show how much financial or other assistance were given to those in need. Here are some interesting records I have found when cataloguing.

An attention grabbing document would be the Warrant Book. It shows warrants issued by the relieving officer due to paupers deserting their families. The remarks on appearances are outstanding, for instance it illustrates that Jacob Renalt (Reynolds) had a ‘bullet wound between his finger and his thumb’.

Register of Warrants, 1900-1954, PL/5/11

Register of Warrants, 1900-1954, PL/5/11

The Admission and Discharge register which includes the individuals’ date of birth, the parish they belonged to, cause of relief and individuals it mentions observations on conditions at the time of admission. For instance James Kirby who was born in 1784 and admitted in 1846 was destitute. His condition was seen as ‘dirty, filthy and nearly naked’.

Admission and Admission and Discharge register, 1843-1843 PL/5/1a

Admission and Admission and Discharge register, 1843-1843 PL/5/1a

Furthermore, the relief section can also allow one to understand how paupers  lived especially by examining the workhouse dietary sheet. The curiosity to find out how these paupers lived prompted my colleague Gary Brannan to try the diet. He found it difficult to eat the large amount of ‘dry bread with only a little bit of liquid’. Furthermore the ‘cocoa was very heavy’ but on a whole the breakfast was ‘flavourless mush with very little to go on’. Therefore you can imagine how they felt!

Workhouse Diet Sheet, 1877, PL/5/16/11

Workhouse Diet Sheet, 1877, PL/5/16/11

There are many interesting facts and figures to observe for many different research purposes but it is still fascinating for anyone to see how people were classed, how they were observed and how they lived in the workhouse.

If anyone has any stories they would like to share regarding their ancestors in the workhouse, questions or would simply like to get involved in the project then please do contact us.

By Ameena Mughal

Link to Gary Brannan’s blog

Sources used:

Register of Warrants, 1900-1948, PL/5/11.

Admission and Discharge register, 1843-1847, PL/5/1a.

Workhouse Diet Sheet, 1877, PL/5/16/11.

Wakefield news…

Consultation is now well underway to help develop our plans for a brand new home for the Wakefield and West Riding archives, currently housed in the Registry of Deeds building.

A Heritage Lottery Fund ‘development grant’ was awarded at the end of 2012 which will help us develop our ideas for a larger application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. This will secure enough funding to build a new home for the Wakefield and West Riding archives.  Next year, we will be submitting a bid to the funders which will outline our architectural plans for a new building; information on how it will improve the condition and management of the collections; the activities and audience engagement programmes that will operate from the new building and the impact this will have on the protection of and access to West Yorkshire’s heritage.


The Registry of Deeds: much-loved and unique – but not fit for our purposes.

The Registry of Deeds building itself, although much loved by staff and visitors, has been deemed ‘not fit for purpose’ by The National Archives.  During their survey of the building in 2009 they also cited the inaccessibility of the building to disabled visitors and recommended that even with a regular maintenance programme and improvements it would be ‘difficult to overcome the problems associated with a building never intended for archive preservation and public access’.   Sadly, the cost of refurbishing the Registry to acceptable archival standards and making the building meet current Equality Act legislation is too prohibitive. Therefore, the funding we seek will be for a brand new building which will form part of the wider Kirkgate regeneration plans for Wakefield.


Storage of the collections is in desperate need of improvement

As the official place of deposit for the former West Riding of Yorkshire the Archive collections held at the registry cover a huge variety of subjects and a geographic area that stretches from Sedbergh down to Sheffield.


The former West Riding of Yorkshire. A mighty county of many a vista….

As well as the archive collections we will also be working alongside West Yorkshire Ecology service and West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, who provide access to the Historic Environment and Ecological Records for the county and with whom we share the current building.  The new facility will provide a single one-stop shop in the best possible accommodation for all our services, their staff and visitors. This enormous collection of knowledge, expertise, resources and records will be housed together in one purpose built and fully accessible facility.


This project has generated an exciting opportunity for the service to assess and improve the way in which it interacts with residents and institutions across the region.  Work has already begun to consult with key groups of users and non-users and to talk to them about how they would like to work with the new facility, what they expect, what they would like and what we can do to make it happen.

A wide variety of groups representing the local community and the wider region will be consulted throughout the planning process. The current priorities are to engage local school groups in order to develop a new learning programme for the service. We are also working to introduce local communities to some of our extensive county-wide collections – including the vast collection of records acquired from the National Coal Board.

This has created an exciting opportunity to work on a collection of national and regional significance which until now we have not explored fully.

Davy lamp

Concordia Miners’ Safety Lamp advert from 1939 held in our collection of mining related records

If you are interested in helping to shape the future of our Wakefield office please get in touch and do come along to one of our events: