National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

NRAS for Researchers

NRAS for Researchers

The National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) was set up in 1946 to compile a record of collections of private papers in Scotland, to encourage their care, and to make information about them available to researchers and others.

The Register

The Register now contains over 4,300 lists or ‘surveys’ of private papers including the records of landed estates, private individuals, businesses, law firms and societies. The NRAS does not hold any of these private papers.

The Register also includes surveys of similar papers which have been deposited in the archives and libraries of local authorities and universities. In addition, the Scottish Archives Network (SCAN) provides access to the holdings of more than 50 Scottish archives.

Copies of all the surveys available on the Register can be consulted in the National Records of Scotland. Surveys can also be searched on the online Register, though not all of the surveys are available electronically.

The National Register of Archives

NRAS surveys are also included in the electronic indexes which can be found on the homepage of the National Register of Archives which is maintained by The National Archives: Historical Manuscripts Commission. Please note that TNA: HMC give all NRAS surveys a separate NRA reference. For example, NRA 11000 refers to NRAS 234, papers of the Dukes of Atholl.

What should I do once I have identified items I would like to consult?

The title page of each survey tells you where enquiries concerning access should be addressed. Where papers have been deposited in an archive or library, you will be directed to the repository concerned. If the papers remain in private hands, you will be referred to the NRAS.

Where the NRAS is given as the contact, write to us:

The Registrar,
National Register of Archives for Scotland,
HM General Register House,
Princes Street,

Or e-mail us [email protected] with the following information:

  • Your full name, e-mail and postal addresses
  • Your enquiry/ details of your research
  • Details of collection(s)/ item(s) of interest
  • Whether you intend to publish
  • Whether you are working to a deadline

Please note

  • As owners may not be able to reply to your request or give access to their papers quickly, it is wise to apply for access as early as possible.
  • That some owners may charge an administration fee for arranging access to their papers.
  • That where permission to view the papers is granted, it is for the named applicant only. If you hope to bring a partner or researcher with you, or wish someone to carry out the research on your behalf, he or she must be named in your application.

Your letter, or e-mail, will be forwarded to the owner for their consideration. The owner may contact you through the NRAS or may choose to contact you direct.

Where to consult the papers

The arrangements for consulting privately held papers vary and may be with the owner or at an archive local to them. Some collections may be deposited temporarily at the National Records of Scotland for consultation in the Historical Search Room. Some owners may charge an administration fee for arranging access to their papers.

What should I do if the owner refuses access?

Private owners receive many requests to view their private papers. It may be quite time-consuming to retrieve documents and many owners, while wishing to be as helpful as possible, are unable to deal with even a low level of enquiries. An owner’s decision not to give access may seem arbitrary to researchers but there are often very good reasons why they cannot, and they are under no obligation to tell us why. Researchers should also remember that access to private papers is a privilege and not a right.

Photocopies/ photographs/ publication

The normal procedure is to consult the documents first before requesting copies. No reprography, exhibition or publication is allowed without the written permission of the owner and an additional letter should be written for the owner’s consideration.

Your research

The NRAS can answer limited and specific enquiries regarding the existence of papers relating to a particular person or topic but cannot undertake research on behalf of enquirers. Once we have advised on possible sources it is then up to enquirers either to carry out the research in person or through a representative. Should you wish to employ a professional researcher, a list of independent record agents working in Scotland can be accessed through our Researching Online page.

Citing of references

References to papers in NRAS surveys should cite the survey name and number, followed by the bundle, volume or individual 'piece' number, e.g.: Douglas-Hamilton family, Dukes of Hamilton and Brandon: NRAS 2177/bundle 8675. If the papers were placed on temporary deposit for you to consult in the National Records of Scotland, the temporary 'TD' number should not normally be cited.

A final reminder

  • The NRAS does not hold any of the papers listed in the Register.
  • Where papers are held privately, apply for access as early as possible.
  • Where permission to view private papers is granted, it is for the named applicant only.
  • The normal procedure is to consult private papers first before requesting copies.