Five Ways to Find Your Railway Ancestors

British Railways Badge  9-Jun-14

1. The first step is to find out which railway company your ancestor worked for. There were many changes and mergers over the years. Consult the British Railways pre-grouping atlas and gazetteer. There’s a copy in the Library at The National Archives at Kew; it is also available in most lending libraries; you can even buy a copy on Amazon! Or scroll to step 3. below for further guidance.

2. Browse the catalogues of the relevant County Record Office, for example, the North Yorkshire County Record Office where, if you put “Railways” in the search box, you will find letters, newspaper cuttings and magazine articles, 19th century station plans e.g. of the Stockton and Darlington Railway & parish records.

GWR Crates & Cases  9-Jun-14

You will also discover a Bill of indictment of John Durrant for obtaining eight dead rabbits from James Wilson servant of the North Eastern Railway Company at Middlesbrough railway station by falsely pretending that he (Durrant) had been sent by Hugh Almond to the station for a hamper containing rabbits!

3. Visit The National Archives (TNA) – Be sure to look at their “Discovery” pages before you visit and, if you have not used their website before, read the TNA Guidance Notes on Railway Workers first. For an example of what you might find, see TNA RAIL 527-954 – NER Accidents 1855-60 – Fatal Accident Church Fenton 26-Jul-1856. This records what happened when a special train was transporting passengers home from the Market Weighton Agricultural Show: “…when this train was being shunted at Church Fenton onto the Harrogate Branch it was “run into” by the Goods train from York”. There were a number of the casualties including two people killed.

To see what the TNA catalogue entry looks like click The National Archives Catalogue Entry to see the entry for the Accident Book.GWR Loco with Driver  9-Jun-14

4. Look at the Archive and Library Collections for the National Railway Museum at York  where you can browse records of individuals and families online.

Browse the Railway Records in the TGWU Archive in the Library of the University of Warwick. The archive contains records for the years 1920 to 2008 and includes papers from the Central Office and Research Department, Branch papers, Members papers and photographs from the 1920s to the 1950s. The records are not accessible online so you will need to visit the Library in Coventry to see them.

GWR Pattern Shop 9-Jun-14

5. Last but definitely not least, get inspired by visiting the highly acclaimed STEAM Museum in Swindon, where, as well as the Museum itself, there is a Library and Archive you can visit Monday to Friday by appointment. Also, the STEAM Picture Library has approximately 10,000 images and photographs that you can view online.