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Now that the Society of Genealogists has celebrated its centenary anniversary, attention is turning on securing its future. The Society now has many commercial competitors but our unique material enables us to stand out from the crowd. This uniqueness needs to be made readily available in order to retain and attract members.

One way of improving accessibility and awareness of the Society’s unique records and family history documents, is to make them available online. This is a mammoth task, as the family history document collection alone consists of over 950,000 documents that will need to be individually catalogued, scanned and uploaded.

With membership fees just about covering the daily running costs of the Society, there is little left over for updates like digitisation, new collections and binding.

This is why we launched the Society’s Friend initiative…

Become a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum Friend and you will be helping to secure the Society’s future whilst also benefiting from exclusive Friend benefits, for example, dedicated Friends lectures and special visits to historic landmarks accompanied by trustees and senior staff.

Click here to download a Friends donation form.

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One Million Merchant Navy Seamen records published online

One million 20th century Merchant Navy Seamen records are going online for family historians for the first time ever, as Britain approaches Merchant Navy Day on Saturday 3rd September. But when asked what the Merchant Navy was, 54% of the British population couldn’t answer correctly, even though almost 90% have heard of them. This is a sad fact considering the Merchant Navy was integral to putting Britain on the trade and industry world map and were named by Churchill as Britain’s ‘fourth service’. The revelation comes as findmypast.co.uk, a leading UK family history website, publishes these fascinating records online in partnership with The National Archives.

For the first time, you may be able to see what your ancestors looked like! Click Here to start start searching for free

Snapshots of mariners

Today’s launch sees records of crew members of UK merchant ships from 1918 to 1941 made available online, including rarely seen photos of the mariners. This is the first time that many relatives will be able to see what their seafaring ancestor looked like and also learn more about the people who made up Churchill’s ‘fourth service’.

 

The records provide fascinating details about each individual mariner. The most complete records have extremely detailed descriptions, including hair and eye colour, height, and distinguishing marks such as tattoos. In one case, Ordinary Seaman Henry Duncan Abbot from Dundee was listed as having a Chinese death head tattoo with the inscription “Death is Glory” on his right forearm – perhaps not so ordinary after all.

The shocking gap in Britain’s general knowledge is highest amongst the younger generation – just 26% of those aged under 35 know what the Merchant Navy is, compared to a wiser 64% of over 55s. Many will therefore be surprised to learn that the Merchant Navy consists of all seagoing UK vessels with commercial interests and their crews.

So it may be a shock to many that at various points in the last millennium, Britain had the largest merchant fleet in the world. The workforce on these vessels was a casual, ‘jobbing workforce’ so in any one year as many as 1.5 million people could be employed in the Merchant Navy, meaning many people are likely to find ancestors in these records. In the popular BBC programme Who Do You Think You Are?, David Suchet and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen both discovered ancestors who had been in the Merchant Navy.

Debra Chatfield, Marketing Manager at findmypast.co.uk, comments: “This is the first time the UK Merchant Navy Seamen records, with their fascinating images of the mariners, have been made available online. Many people aren’t sure what the Merchant Navy is, even though a large proportion of the UK population will have Merchant Navy seamen in their ancestry. Hopefully these records will help fill the gaps and people will enjoy learning about what life was like for the brave, seafaring merchants who helped the island nation of Britain prosper.”

A floating United Nations

The Merchant Navy Seamen records reveal the diverse crews that manned vessels ranging from cargo liners to passenger ferries to luxury cruise ships, working in a variety of professions and industries through some of the most vital moments in British history.

The term ‘floating United Nations’ has often been linked to the Merchant Navy and these records go further to support this idea. As high as 70% of ships’ crews were made up of international seamen from countries such as the West Indies, Scandinavia and Japan. These records hold details, and in many cases photographs, of these multi-national mariners.

Ship shape and women’s fashion

The Merchant Navy has been in existence for a significant period of British history, owing much of its growth to British imperial expansion. One of the most notable observations from the records is that women were prevalent on the ships. One example is Doris Abbey from Liverpool, a 5’4” Manicurist with hazel eyes, brown hair and a medium complexion – perhaps she joined the Merchant Navy to make sure the mariners’ nails were kept ship shape!

Janet Dempsey, Marine and Maritime Record Specialist at The National Archives comments: The Merchant Navy Seamen records cover a very significant era in nautical history commencing at the very peak of the popularity of ocean travel, in the time of the great ocean liners, when overseas tourism meant taking to the seas. The years that followed saw the end of this period of prosperity, and the start of the Great Depression. For mariners this was a time when work on board was hard to get, and many men were forced to take other work between voyages to make ends meet.  These newly digitised records make a fascinating social record as well as a valuable family history resource.”

Young hands on deck

At this time, many young mariners were operational at sea and a number of them can be found in the records. One young seaman, Allison Robinson Saville, was a 14 year old boy who was born in Hull in 1904. As Cabin Boy, the lowest ranking male employee, his role would have been to wait on the officers and passengers of the ship, and run errands for the ship’s Captain.

 

Remembering

Though these records do not cover the war time period, the Merchant Navy supported the Royal Navy during times of conflict, including WW1 and WW2. During these wars the Merchant Navy suffered heavy losses from German U-boat attacks. Official recognition of the sacrifices made by merchant seamen throughout history has taken place every 3rd September, with the Annual Merchant Navy Parade and Reunion taking place in Trinity Gardens, Tower Bridge on the closest Sunday, this year Sunday 4th September.

 

The Merchant Navy Seamen records are the only set of their kind available online and have been published in association with The National Archives. The records show that the seamen who made up the Merchant Navy not only came from the UK, but from every continent, with large numbers from across English-speaking world (notably the Maritime provinces of Canada), from the West Indies and Sierra Leone, and from Scandinavia, Somaliland, China and Japan. There are even some seamen from landlocked Switzerland.

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Book of the Month – My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman

To coincide with the release of one million twentieth century Merchant Seamen records by Find My Past, the Society of Genealogists is offering My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman by Christopher and Michael Watts as its Book of the Month for September. This book is recognised as the authoritative work on tracing Merchant Seaman ancestors and is available with a 20% discount throughout the month of September. You can order directly fron the society’s bookshop, or online at www.sog.org.uk. Members of the society may take advantage of this offer in addition to their existing members discount. Offer ends 30/09/2011.

 

railway worker sized for amazon thumb My Ancestor was a Railway Worker   understand the new railway records on Ancestry.co.ukThe Ultimate UK Train Spotters’ Archive is now online and the Society of Genealogists book My Ancestor was a Railway Worker: a guide to understanding records about railway people can help you use this remarkable family history resource. Available from the Society’s online bookshop the author, Frank Hardy FSG, himself a former railway civil engineer, gives broad picture of the the railway industry handling passengers and freight in Britain and explains the terms and phrases that occur in Victorian and Edwardian staff records. He explains what your railway ancestor did and the records that can be found.  I’m delighted to say that many of these records are now available online.

In partnership with The National Archives the newly digitised historic records documenting the history of the British rail service through the lives of its employees  have been published on Ancestry.co.uk and are available free to use in the Society of Genealogists’ Library.

Two million railway employment records detail the people who made the Industrial Revolution possible

Records hark from a time when ‘Train Driver’ was one of the most coveted careers

Accident books reveal how dangerous the rail service was and caution records show how staff were reprimanded for mistakes

Details from the ‘big four’ companies; Great Western Railway, London, Midland and Scottish Railway, London and North Eastern Railway and the Southern Railway

In a world-first, Ancestry.co.uk,  in partnership with The National Archives, today launched online the Railway Employment Records, 1833 – 1963,a historic collection containing the employment-related records of British railway workers dating back to the invention of the locomotive in the early 19th century.

Billed as the ultimate train-spotters’ collection, the records tell the story of how the rail service grew during the Industrial Revolution and shows staff striving to ‘make it’ as one of the most desirable professions of the Victorian era – a train driver.

The collection of 1,998,159 records goes into intricate detail, listing not only name, home station and date of birth of the employee, but also information on their career progression, salary increases, rewards, fines or suspensions for misbehaviour and notes from superiors on the worker’s character and behaviour.

The records date from 1833, a time when the Great Western Railway,engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel,was in its infancy and the Stockton & Darlington line (opened in 1825) had been running for a little under a decade. By the middle of the 20th century, the entire rail network encompassed 6,000 stations and covered over 21,000 miles of track, with its development widely hailed as the primary catalyst for Britain’s industrial growth.

While today many young people aspire to be professional footballers or actors, during the rise of the railways, the role of ‘Engineman 1st Class’ (train driver) was one of the most coveted jobs available to the masses. As a result, men would join the service as labourers, cleaners or attendants and work their way up, often taking 20-25 years before controlling their own train.

However, unlike today’s dream jobs, the role hardly delivered fame and fortune, with the average wage of a train driver in the late 19th century standing at around 8/- a day – equivalent to around £10,000 a year today.2

Working in the railway service in the 19th century was also extremely dangerous as the country got to grips with this ‘new technology’, which is shown in the lists of injuries and fatalities documented in the archive going online today. Prior to 1900, there were approximately 98 major accidents resulting in hundreds of fatalities and over 2,000 serious injuries, all recorded by safety staff in meticulous detail.

With stakes so high, the rail companies introduced a series of strict reprimand systems whereby staff members were punished for behaviour that was deemed irresponsible or dangerous. These varied from minor fines (often of a shilling or two) to major disciplinary actions where the worker would be suspended without pay or fired.

Examples of misdemeanours found in the records include workers being ‘inebriated’ while at an engine, drivers demoted for running red signals and staff fighting amongst themselves whilst on duty.

At the same time, rail workers were actively rewarded for taking action that prevented possible accidents, with the good deed marked in red ink on their personal records and rewards of up to two weeks wages issued. As a result of this system and the advancement of rail safety, the early 20th century rail service became a safer place to work (and safer for passengers too).

The rail networks were brought under government control for the first time during WW1 but were returned to private ownership immediately afterwards when the bulk of the system was in the hands of the so-called ‘big four’ – the Great Western Railway, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, the London and North Eastern Railway and the Southern Railway – all of whom have thousands of former employees listed in this collection.

During WW2, the companies had to join together to operate as one as the war effort put a severe strain on the railways’ resources and created a substantial maintenance backlog – part of the reason why the government brought the rail service into the public sector in 1945.

In fact, the majority of employment records in this collection date around this period (1947), although a number date up to 1963.

 

This database includes indexed images of employment-related records from a number of historic railway companies in England, Scotland, and Wales.

image My Ancestor was a Railway Worker   understand the new railway records on Ancestry.co.ukWhat is included?

All of the railways included in this database were once private companies that later came under authority of the British Transport Commission with the 1947 Transport Act. The collection features selected records from the following companies:
•RAIL226: Great Central Railway Company
•RAIL264: Great Western Railway Company
•RAIL397: London and North Eastern Railway Company
•RAIL410: London and North Western Railway Company
•RAIL411: London and South Western Railway Company
•RAIL414: London, Brighton and South Coast Railway
•RAIL415: London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company (formerly the East Kent Railway)
•RAIL426: London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company
•RAIL463: Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company
•RAIL491: Midland Railway Company
•RAIL1156: Special Collections: Retired Railway Officers’ Society

Approximately 50% of the books cover the Great Western Railway, while the books covering the London and North Western Railway are more dense with records. Most records are prior to 1949, though some date later.

What can I find?

The most common record type in the database is a staff register. Others include station transfers, pension and accident records (which can include death date), apprentice records (which can include father’s name), caution books, and memos.

Records will typically list an employee’s name, station, position, birth date or age, and various other details, such as salary, date entered service, and transfer information. For example, caution books list offenses employees were written up for and include name, date, grade, station, years of service, and date of suspension if applicable. Salary and wage registers list name, name of person recommending an employee for a position, date of appointment, salary or wage, dates of pay raises or decreases, age at the time the employee joined the railways, promotions, and remarks, which can mention transfers to different stations.

Records can be searched by name, birth year, event year, station, or company. Or they can be browsed by volume. In the browse, unless otherwise identified, the books are staff registers.

What is missing?

There are 58 pieces excluded from this collection for privacy reasons.

RAIL 264 Great Western Railway Company: Staff Records •Pieces 412, 413, 440, 442, 443, 471-522
RAIL 397 London and North Eastern Railway Company: Staff Records •Piece 13

There are currently 6 sections missing from these records. They will be added to the database at a later date.

RAIL 264 Great Western Railway Company: Staff Records •Piece 328: Register of weekly staff No.6 London District 1905-1913
•Piece 416: Birmingham District 1898-1913
•Piece 415: London Division 1896-1906
•Piece 417: Chester Division 1898-1909
•Piece 438: Register and histories of traffic staff at stations in Wales 1872-1892
RAIL 426 London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company: Staff Records •Piece 4: Register of scale advances (adults other than 5th grade) 1941 – 1946
Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones comments: “These records shed light on what it must have been like to work on the railways in its early years – a dangerous job with strict rules and severe reprimands for error, but with the promise of reaching that highly coveted role as an engine driver.

“The level of detail within the records is also staggering, which means family history enthusiasts can gain a real insight into their ancestor’s character – be it through records of promotions and rewards or perhaps punishments and demotions.”

Caroline Kimbell, Head of Licensing at The National Archives, said: “The Railway Employment Records are one of the largest and earliest archives of civilian trades in the UK. The records reveal fascinating stories about life on the railways from their early, dangerous beginnings to their heyday as a key component of Britain’s Victorian infrastructure, and reflect the significance of the railway companies as huge employers in both towns and country. Many families will find railway ancestors here, and the level of detail in these records make them a valuable online resource for historians and rail enthusiasts alike.”

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The Society of Genealogists is pleased to announce the forthcoming President’s Lecture in celebration of the Society’s 100th anniversary.

On the occasion of the Society’s Centenary, Patric Dickinson takes the opportunity to offer some reflections on the many changes that have taken place in the world of genealogy during the fifty years since Sir Anthony Wagner’s lecture ‘Genealogy and the Common Man’ (given as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1961), a period that has witnessed the growth of family history from a hobby enjoyed by a small minority to a popular activity pursued by millions of people worldwide. Patric Dickinson cuts the cake at the Society of Genealogists Centenary Gala Dinner thumb Society of Genealogists Presidents Centenary Lecture   Genealogy: Our Favourite Insanity

With Patric Dickinson, LVO, MA, FSG, Clarenceux King of Arms and President of the Society of Genealogists

Venue: The Swedenborg Society, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH

Tuesday 18th October at 7pm . Buffet & Wine . Tickets: £17.50*

Online booking at www.sog.org.uk (events & lectures section).

 

Alternatively contact our events co-ordinator on:
020 7553 3290 or email: events@sog.org.uk

14 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London EC1M 7BA
Tel: 020 7251 8799
Fax: 020 7250 1800

 

*Ticket price includes a donation for buffet & wine.

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