Tue 20 Feb 2018 03:25:55


Rail UK Railway Staff Family History


Note that Rail UK does not hold any records of information on railway staff/employees. However, the following information should help you trace your railway ancestors.

Step 1: Find the railway company they worked for

For this you will need to find your ancestorís address. A census search should supply this information if not already known: census information is held at the National Archives.

Once you know where your ancestor lived, you will need to find the location in a railway atlas (see the bibliography). In most cases the railway line nearest the home address would be the company your ancestor worked for. This becomes harder to find out in urban areas which are served by more than one company. You may need to research more than one company's records in this case.

The National Archives also have a employee search page Looking for records of a railway worker. This is a brief guide to help you with your research. Before the railway industry was nationalised in 1947 there were many separate railway companies with different methods of keeping records. Comprehensive staff records have survived from only a few, and there is no unified name index - records are arranged by company or successor company. Most railway staff records after 1947 remain with the railway industry.

Step 2: Work out dates of employment

Before 1923 there were over 100 different railway companies; between 1923-1947 there were four; after 1948, just one. It will help your research if you have an idea of when your ancestor worked on the railways. If you donít know, add 14 years to their date of birth. Many railway employees began their working life very young as apprentices.

Step 3: Research locations of company records

It's important to note that records may not have survived - and that those that do exist may be held by more than one organisation.

There have been several books written to help you research your railway ancestors: see the bibliography.

Step 4: Background research

The National Railway Museum ay York can help bring your ancestor's story to life. On visiting Search Engine, you can read up on the history of the railway company your ancestor worked for; listen to oral history recordings from people doing similar jobs; see photos of the location where they worked; and hold tools similar to those they handled.

In addition they have:

  • Staff magazines for those companies that produced them of the major railway companies of the 20th century. These magazines feature staff promotions, retirements, awards and often have employee photos. They also provide an insight into what life was like working on the railways.
  • If your ancestor served in the armed forces in the First or Second World Wars and was unlucky enough not to survive, they have copies of many of the Rolls of Honour.
  • Similarly if your ancestor was involved in a railway accident, they have the official Accident Reports that you can consult. Not all accidents were recorded or given their own report, but for the serious accidents involving loss of civilian life, individuals are often mentioned.
  • They have examples of certificates and books presented to staff when they won an award or retired. Maybe your ancestorís achievements are in their collection.

Whatever role your ancestor worked in the railways, you will find something in The National Railway Museum Collections to link with your past.


All books can be consulted in The National Railway Museum Search Engine.


  • British railways pre-grouping atlas and gazetteer. 5th ed. London : Ian Allan, 1967. ISBN: 0711003203
  • Cobb, M. H. The railways of Great Britain : a historical atlas. Shepperton : Ian Allan, 2003. ISBN: 0711030022 (vol. 1.); 0711030030 (vol. 2.)
  • Jowett, Alan. Jowett's railway atlas of Great Britain and Ireland : from pre-grouping to the present day. Wellingborough : Patrick Stephens, 1989. ISBN: 1852600861

Research guides

  • Edwards, Cliff. Railway records : a guide to sources. Richmond : Public Record Office, c2001. ISBN: 1903365104
  • Hawkings, David T. Railway ancestors : a guide to the staff records of the railway companies of England and Wales 1822-1947. Stroud : History Press, 2008. (New ed.) ISBN: 9780750950589
  • Richards, Tom. Was your grandfather a railwayman? Bristol : T. Richards, 2002. (4th ed.) ISBN: 1860061613
  • Tracing your Railway Ancestors

To search for additional titles that may help in your research, browse our Library Catalogue.

Further information

Railway Ancestors Family History Society

Search Engine staff's family history-related websites

Books about Railway Staff

Books about Railways

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