I found a likely match for a family member in the prison registers on the UK find my past site, but don't understand the "Piece scope" part:

Beds. - Hunts.

The record can be found here: https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=TNA%2FCCC%2FHO27%2F00485169

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I managed to find the same record on ancestry.co.uk but they don't provide as much information so it did not help.

2 Answers 2


Anything like this that has originated from the National Archives is best understood by consulting their catalogue - in this case you can search for HO 27/143 to find the record and then view it in the hierarchy.

At that point it becomes obvious that each piece contains records for a group of counties, arranged in alphabetical order, with piece 143 covering records from Bedfordshire (Beds) to Kent. I'm not quite sure why Find My Past are saying it ends at Huntingdonshire (Hunts) unless they have split the piece in to two parts.

  • So my record will be "Brist" after "Beds" and before "Hunts" and is not important as a reference. I was hoping it would be a prison name.
    – Barnaby
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 18:29

I agree with the recommendation in the previous answer to view the cited collection in the online catalogue of the archive which holds the record, in this case, TNA. This answer is intended as a supplement to show how you can get even more information, and to make the answer more generally useful.

Basics of Archival Arrangement

The US National Archives describes the levels of archival arrangement as follows:

In all large archival depositories there can be distinguished, usually, at least five levels of arrangement:

  1. Arrangement at the depository level -- the breakdown of the depository's complete holdings into a few major divisions on the broadest common denominator possible and the physical placement of holdings of each such major division to best advantage in the building's stack areas. This major division of holdings is usually reflected in parallel administrative units (divisions or branches in the depository organization that are given responsibility for these major groupings).
  2. Arrangement at the record group and subgroup levels -- the breakdown of the holdings of an administrative division or branch (as these may have been established on the first level) into record groups and the physical placement of these in some logical pattern in stack areas assigned to the division or branch. This level should include the identification of natural subgroups and their allocation to established record groups.
  3. Arrangement at the series level -- the breakdown of the record group into natural series and the physical placement of each series in relation to other series in some logical pattern.
  4. Arrangement at the filing unit level -- the breakdown of the series into its filing unit components and the physical placement of each component in relation to other components in some logical sequence, a sequence usually already established by the agency so that the archivist merely verifies and accepts it.
  5. Arrangement at the document level -- the checking and arranging, within each filing unit, of the individual documents, enclosures and annexes, and individual pieces of paper that together comprise the filing unit and the physical placement of each document in relation to other documents in some accepted, consistent order.

References from The US National Archives (NARA) will include a Record Group followed by a number, where TNA uses a government departmental reference code (e.g. HO = Home Office) but the principles are similar. In this case, we have HO 127 Piece 143, and the question is, what is the scope of the records contained within that piece (subgroup)?

Help at findmypast


From the Record Page for the individual search result, look at the information underneath the record details:

Source Citation Class: HO 27; Piece: 143; Page: 213

Clicking on the Learn More link, or clicking on the Title England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 will take you to the main search page for the collection. From there, you can read the About the Database. You can also learn more about how the records are arranged on Ancestry itself by looking at the browse box on the right-hand side of the page.

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In this case, Ancestry has broken out each county separately, and has not given you any archive references in the listing in the browse box. Some databases offer more information.

If you are in the image viewer, you can find out the archive reference by pulling out the side panel in the image viewer:

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The panel recaps the information shown under the record page, so you don't have to switch back and forth between two tabs to read it and look at the image. However, it may not have all of the information you can find on the record page (there's no link to the learn more information on the main search page).

Once you have the archive reference, go to the original archive to find out more, as already suggested.

Research guidance at TNA

Via TNA's Discovery, look for Help With Your Research. The page "How to look for records of ... Crime, prisons and punishment 1770-1935" lists the series included in the collection with links to the top level of the hierarchy (in this case, you are looking for HO27). Like at Findmypast, you can find even more information by following links to related research guides shown on the right-hand side of the page.

I also recommend navigating to your piece within the hierarchy at TNA, since it gives you an overview of how records are arranged.

Search Tips

If you are searching via Google, try looking for the collection title plus "scope and content" and "finding aids" to determine the scope of a group or sub-group of records. Also search for the title of the entire group of records by itself to find articles about the collection and research guides that mention it.

  • 2
    It's probably also important not to imagine that there is too much significance to the scope of what's in a Piece. Usually a Piece corresponds to a box or bundle that lands on your desk when you go there and order it. However, if the archivists had a medium sized box and several slim volumes in the same sequence, then they might well fill the box with those volumes in their alphabetical or numerical sequence. Nothing significant other than making the best use of the boxes while respecting the order.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 10:10
  • 1
    Weirdly, though, I did once order a Piece and it came in a box containing two Pieces! No idea why!
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 10:12

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