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Free online resources

Ancestry Library Edition

Ancestry Library Edition

Researching your family tree? If you are a Tower Hamlets Idea Store user, you can access our subscription to Ancestry Library Edition for free. Available in any Tower Hamlets library or idea store with no login requirement by going directly to the Ancestry Library Edition homepage.

Ancestry is the world’s largest online database of family history records, including birth, marriage, death and census records. It is good for anyone tracing London ancestors. Some useful digitised record sets include:

  • Tower Hamlets Cemetery Registers, 1841-1966
  • London Selected Church of England Parish Registers, 1558-1875
  • London Electoral Registers, 1832-1965
  • London City Directories, 1736-1943
The British Newspaper Archive

The British Newspaper Archive

Discover history as it happened with access to hundreds of historic newspapers from all over Britain and Ireland dating from 1700 onwards with our subscription to the British Newspaper Archive. Their collections feature several East London newspapers, including:

This service is only available at Tower Hamlets Idea Stores and libraries.

You will need to register for a free account and then login to the British Newspaper Archive with that account in an Idea Store or the Local History Library (or on the Idea Store Wi-Fi) to get unlimited access.

BFI Replay

Relive, research and lose yourself in the past with thousands of digitised videos and television programmes - from the 1960s to the 2010s.

From the British Film Institute (BFI) National Archive and partner UK Regions and Nations Film Archives, BFI Replay is available only in public libraries on our public PCs.

Anyone who signs into a computer in most Tower Hamlets Idea Stores or libraries and Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives using their library card can access this new streaming service for free. (Coming soon to Idea Store Watney Market )

BFI Replay

Digital gallery

Visit our Digital Gallery to browse some of our 36,000 images reflecting life in Tower Hamlets over the centuries, including a large number of historic street scenes. More images of Tower Hamlets can be found online at the London Metropolitan Archives’ Collage website.

Digitised historic maps

Tower Hamlets Local History and Archives holds over 2,000 maps, a small sample of which Layers of London have digitised and made available online, including:

  • Plan of the hamlet of Ratcliff, 1846
  • St. George division, Circa 1880
  • The East and West India Docks, 1886
  • Annotated map of the Isle of Dogs, Circa 1890
  • Plan of the Limehouse district, 1893
  • Metropolitan Borough of Stepney, 1899 (annotated with the locations of air raid shelters in 1940)

To view the maps, follow the link above and select ‘Use this layer’, then click ‘I’m done!’ on the following page.

Browse our paintings collection

We hold a large collection of paintings featuring places in Tower Hamlets or by East End artists including Doreen Fletcher, Noël Gibson, and Rose Henriques. ArtUK have digitised a selection of these artworks and made them available to view online.

Explore our online archives

Explore a selection of digitised items from our collections. Selected to be of particular interest to family historians, they include apprentice registers, taxation records and registers from places of worship.

They include many names and other personal details, and all records have an alphabetical index.

Oral history recordings

Explore clips from our extensive oral history collection to hear borough residents in their own words. Listen to former East End shop owners, Bengali community organizers and anti-racist protesters, Somali migrants and many more describe their experiences of Tower Hamlets.

Online exhibitions

You might not be able to visit our exhibitions in person but we have a selection of online exhibitions for you to explore, including: