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Bedfordshire Archives enquiry and research service

Frequently asked questions


What information can you provide by telephone?

On the whole the telephone is only useful for short enquiries and basic service information. Please ring us, for instance, if you want information about our services, general information on sources or if you need advice on how to carry out your research. We aim to answer promptly (within 4 rings) and will always do our best to give you sound advice from a specialist if possible.


Is there a limit to the help you can give by telephone?

Yes; in a busy office like ours and given the nature of archive research, there are limits to how far we can help by telephone. If you have a complex enquiry or if we need to make a search in the records before we can provide the information you need, we recommend that you book an appointment (by email) and visit the searchroom, write to us or fill out our enquiry form instead. If you are proposing making a visit from some distance, you may find it helpful to write to us asking for a preliminary search to be made of our holdings. This may also help you plan your visit more effectively.


Why is it best for me to write or email?

Because it helps us to give you a carefully researched and helpful reply taking into account all the information relating to your research enquiry. Please fill our enquiry form out in full.


How soon will you reply?

We aim to respond to all postal or e-mail enquiries within two working days and, in most cases, we will reply on the same day we receive your enquiry. For lengthy research work we will liaise with you about how long it is likely to take. If you contact us by e-mail and we fail to reply within two days, you may like to contact us by telephone to enquire about progress, as sometimes our return e-mails to customers fail to get through. 


Do you charge for enquiry work?

We don't usually charge for providing information and advice about sources but if you want staff to carry out research work then you must expect to pay. There is a minimum charge on photocopying orders by post to cover costs see Our Scale of Charges and a search charge will be made where copying involves research to find items to be copied. We ask you please pay promptly for work done by post, preferably within 4 weeks. We can accept credit card payments but it is unwise to send details by e-mail for security reasons.

We also offer gift vouchers.


Can you give me some examples to show how the system works in practice?

If you want to know if we hold sources for a certain village school then there won’t be a charge. But if you want us to examine school log books and admission registers, then search fees will apply. If you are looking for the baptism of an ancestor at a known date in a particular parish – and the source is either transcribed or on microform – then we can carry out a search and report our findings free of charge. However, we will always charge if you want to look at original documents which have to be retrieved from the storeroom: this includes series such as registers of electors. Please do ask us for advice if you are unsure.



What if I am not really sure where to look?

We will always do our best to offer constructive advice on possible sources.  We will have to charge if this entails examining original documents, but we will tell you in advance if this is necessary.


How much do you charge?

We set our fees and charges annually and the rates usually go up on 1st January. For details of current charges see Our Scale of Charges.


Isn't your charge rather high?

They may seem expensive but think how much you are charged when your washing machine or car needs to be repaired. Our staff are well trained and have considerable specialist expertise and enquiries are allocated to them accordingly. Sometimes several staff will contribute to a reply. The depth of staff experience means that we can usually find the information you require very quickly and our charge is made on the basis only of the time spent researching. We aim to offer good value for money for all research we undertake. We also monitor what other archive offices charge to ensure that our fees are similar.


Does the charge include the cost of photocopies?

It does not; you will have to pay extra for any photocopies you ask us to provide. If we have to spend time identifying the entries or items you want copied, then our research fees may apply. For information on charges for photocopies see Our Scale of Charges.



Will you still charge me even if you do not find the information I want?

Yes. Our charges are based on the amount of time we spend on your query and not on the results. It is therefore very important that you give us accurate information and tell us as precisely as possible what you want us to find for you.


Do you need payment in advance?

As it is difficult to estimate the cost of work in advance we don't normally insist on pre-payment. However, you can indicate an upper limit – for example,  up to two hours - for work which you commission. We will ask you for payment when we send the results of the research. When we have given an estimate, or if your order is only for copies,  we will usually ask for payment in advance – or ask for your credit card details


What methods of payment do you accept?

We accept credit card payment by Mastercard, Maestro, Visa or Visa Delta.


The Archives Service now has a facility enabling our customers to pay online for the services they get from us. When you have contacted us with your enquiry and we have given you an enquiry number and a breakdown of the research/copying fees owed you can pay by following the instructions below. Please read the guidelines first which should help you navigate your way through the payment system.

  1. Select the 'Miscellaneous' option from the Borough Council's payment homepage
  2. Click on ‘Archives’ and a drop down menu of our services will appear. Select one of the options, such as Photocopies. 
  3. This will take you to a page where you are asked to fill in your name and address details, and the amount that you need to pay for the service you have selected.  NB If you are living outside the UK please enter our postcode - MK42 9AP -as others will not work. 
  4. In the field labelled Message Box, you must put your enquiry number – this will have been given to you by the member of staff dealing with your enquiry, and will look something like this – 17-01-123.
  5. Press ‘Continue’ and you will see a summary of what you have to pay for so far. If you have any other services to pay for, such as research or digital copies, click on ‘Add Another Service’ and add the items required from the menu. When all the services you need to pay for are listed on the summary, press ‘Continue’.
  6. A page appears which asks for your card details, and also whether you want an electronic receipt sending to your e-mail address. When the details have been filled in, press ‘Continue’ and you should then get a payment confirmation and a payment reference number. The process is complete, your payment has been accepted, and the Archives Service will receive confirmation that you have paid.

N.B. We are not permitted to retain card details for our customers, so every time you use our service and incur a fee, you will have to enter your payment details. We will not keep a record of your details.

We also accept payment by personal cheque or postal order made payable to Bedford Borough Council.


Can I pay in foreign currency if I am writing from abroad?

The easiest way to pay is via credit card. However, if this is not possible you will be asked by the banks to pay extra currency conversion charges if you pay in foreign currency. Naturally, we will accept sterling cheques or postal orders at no extra charge.


What do I need to tell you when I write?

Your e-mail or letter should state clearly what you want to know and how much work you are prepared to pay for. If possible, you should list the sources - with dates - you would like us to search. Some background information - but not all you know! - on the work you have already done may also be helpful to us. Please ask us if you are unsure. It is always helpful to us if you include a daytime telephone number so we can clarify any points of uncertainty about your enquiry. Please mention if you are already in contact with us about your research (this helps us particularly when an enquiry becomes ‘live’ again after a lapse of time), or if you have contacted any other organisation for help (as it may help us avoid duplication of effort).



Will the same person be dealing with  my enquiries?

Yes, when possible. Unless somone is away or unavailable, all enquiries addressed personally will be passed to the member of staff concerned. If a member of staff here has to take over an enquiry they will always introduce themselves to you.



Are there any circumstances under which you would be unable to help?

We will always try to help you by providing the information you want. However, this may not be possible in some cases - for instance, where documents are in poor condition or access to them is restricted. Where records are "closed" ( in the case of medical records, for example) we will look at the possibilities for granting access and help if possible.



What can I do if I am not satisfied with the work you have done?

If you think that we have missed something important, misunderstood your query, or provided irrelevant information, then let us know. We will try to put things right at no extra charge. If the fault is clearly ours, we will refund any money you have paid. If you are still unhappy, then you may use the complaints procedure, details of which are available in a leaflet (contact us for details).



Is there any other way I can get the information I need?

Yes; if you are tracing your family history, then you may prefer to employ an independent researcher ( many advertise in family and local history literature) or take advantage of the services available to members of the Bedfordshire Family History Society. We do not maintain a list of researchers. Please let us know if you have already written to another museum, library or institution with the same enquiry. This will avoid possible duplication of effort. 

June 2017