I thought it might be useful to write a few notes for people wishing to visit the Isle of Wight Record Office (IWRO) in order to find out more about their Family History.
As most people will be aware the IWRO holds a wide variety of local historical documents and research resources. A look at their website https://www.iwight.com/Residents/Libraries-Cultural-and-Heritage/Records-Office/ will give a good idea of the items held. One of the links there is to their Family History Research Guide ( https://www.iwight.com/azservices/documents/1386-FAMILY%20HISTORY%20RESEACH%20CURRENT.pdf ), which it is certainly worth reading in preparation for your visit.
The IWRO is located on Hillside, between Fairlee Road and the Quay in Newport (See https://www.iwight.com/Residents/Libraries-Cultural-and-Heritage/Records-Office/Record-Office/Contact ) and is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9am until 12:25pm and from 1pm until 5pm.
So what will you find when you visit the IWRO?
From the front door, go through the hallway and through the door marked "Search Room". As you stand in the Search Room doorway you will see that there is shelving and a short passageway to your left. The passageway leads to a smaller room with the microfilm reader/printer, the toilets and the staff only areas. Then along the left hand wall there are filing cabinets followed by more bookshelves, and then in the far corner the Enquiries Desk, where you will need to sign in. The staff are lovely and very helpful. If you are not sure of anything ask them and they will sort you out. Along the back wall are more Book shelves.
To the right of the Search Room doorway there are more shelves, and then along the right hand wall more filing cabinets followed by a large table reserved for the use of maps and then another table, a display and a computer. Down the middle of the room are two large tables with chairs. Sign in and take a chair.
The primary records for Family History research are the Parish Records, in particular the Parish Registers (PR). These record all the church baptisms, marriages and burials, and in some cases the records go back as far as the mid-16th Century. The Parish Registers are generally large volumes and the older ones are rather fragile. If they were consulted very frequently they would soon be badly damaged and entries could become lost or illegible. For this reason most of them have been micro-filmed. They have also been indexed. These index entries form the bulk of the main Name Index which is in the filing cabinets on the left when looking from the door. The index is in the form of cards with a separate card for each record that has been indexed. The cards are filed by name and then within each name there are first all the baptisms from the PR, then all the marriages followed by all the burials. There are then cards for miscellaneous records. These are mostly land and property transactions. Within each of the four sets of cards, the cards should be arranged in chronological order. These cabinets contain entries up to 1900.
Each card that corresponds to a PR entry is actually a full transcription of the entry, except in the case of marriages. Marriages before 1754 are full transcripts, but between 1754 and 1837 witnesses are not included on the cards and it is not indicated whether the bride and groom signed the register or made their mark. After 1837 the marriages are simply indexed, but for this period photocopies of the registers are available in ring binders for each church. These can be found on top of the filing cabinets.
If you take out a bunch of cards to check through at the table, make sure that you get a marker tab from the Enquiry Desk to mark where you have taken the cards from so that you can put them back in the right place! Also take care when working through them to keep them in chronological order. Note that, as in any transcription, the Name Index may contain a few errors. If you want to be absolutely sure of your facts you should check the actual entries in the registers. This usually involves obtaining the relevant microfilm from a member of staff and taking it to the microfilm reader/printer. If you plan to do this you should book the use of the microfilm reader/printer before hand.
The last cards of the Name Index and others for the period after 1900 are to be found in the filing cabinets on the other side of the room. There are also separate indices filed by Place and Subject.
If you wish to check what periods are covered by the Parish Registers, or wish to see what other Parish Records are available, there is a handy webpage at https://www.iwight.com/Residents/Libraries-Cultural-and-Heritage/Records-Office/Parish-and-Non-Conformist-Records/Parish-Records-and-Registers. Clicking on any name in the parish list there will open a catalogue of all the Parish Records for that parish.
The shelves between the filing cabinets and the Enquiry Desk contain general reference books relevant to the Isle of Wight, and in particular a selection of Trade and Street Directories covering the late 18th to the mid 20th century.
The shelves to the right of the entrance contain binders with catalogues of the various collections held by the Record Office. An online catalogue of the Record Office holdings can be searched at the National Archives website. Select the "Discovery" search engine and click on the "advanced search" link ( http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/advanced-search ) at the bottom of the page is a "Held By" field. Select the button for "Search other archives" and type "Isle of Wight Record Office". Then use the search and date boxes further up the page. Using the online catalogue before you visit can save you time at the Record Office.
If you find references in any of the catalogues to documents that you think may be of interest to you, then make a note of the reference number. Go to the Enquiries Desk and fill in a request slip and the document will be retrieved from the store and brought to you. If you wish to capture images of any documents, then talk to a member of staff for advice. Some documents can be photocopied for you, but often a digital camera/phone picture is more convenient. There is a fee to pay either way.
Finally, I should make mention of the Family Files. These live on the shelves to the left of the entrance. There are two distinct sets of these. One is family history research that has been deposited with the IWRO by individuals or which has been compiled by Record Office staff as paid research. This set lives in box files on the lower shelves. The other set has been deposited by the Isle of Wight Family History Society (their Pedigree data, compiled by their members). It lives in green boxes above the box files. There is a blue binder that contains indices for both sets, with the IWFHS one at the back. If you are lucky you may find the family you are interested in has already been researched by someone and your questions are answered here! It's always worth checking anything you find here.
I hope you find these notes useful and that you enjoy your time at the Isle of Wight Record Office.