October 26, 2018

Railway Ancestors

by admin in Uncategorised
We are pleased to announce a new exhibitor within the world of genealogy:
The Railway Work, Life and Death Project.
This is a joint initiative between the University of Portsmouth and the National Railway Museum (NRM) and also works with other institutions including The National Archives of the UK. They are making it easier to find out about railway worker accidents in Britain and Ireland in the early twentieth century – who was involved, what they were doing on the railways, what happened to them and why.

See below for a highlight on what information they hold 


  • At THE Genealogy Show: find out more about us, see railway work & accidents on film, take away our project info sheets, browse the website, search the database, talk to us – highly encouraged as we’re very friendly and we’re keen to build connections with genealogists, as they can fill in the blanks about the workers’ wider lives and we can fill in the blanks about the family member’s work and accident.
  1.  A database of nearly 4,000 British & Irish railway worker accidents 1911-15, giving excellent details of the individuals concerned and what happened; this is drawn from the official state accident reports produced at the time. Put together by our National Railway Museum volunteers;
  2. Plenty of additional, general detail on railway work & accidents in the early 20th century;
  3. A regular blog, updated at least once a week, with cases from our database in more detail & guest contributions (including from family historians – contributions welcome!).
  • Coming soon (in the next 2 months): a further 600 cases, detailing what happened to the workers after the accident;
  • Coming next year: we’re extending to cover the interwar period, estimated an additional 7,500 cases; this is currently in progress behind the scenes.

 Read on for an exclusive feature by Mike Esbester – Academic project lead, ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’

Railway Ancestors = Railway Accidents?

At the start of the 20th century the railway industry was the third largest employer in the UK, with over 600,000 employees. It’s not a surprise then, that many of you will have railway ancestors.

But did any of them have an accident?

There’s a good chance they did – and if so, that might help your genealogy research! Working on the railways was once very dangerous – in 1913 alone nearly 30,000 people were either injured or killed. Some of those accidents were investigated by the Railway Inspectorate, the state body responsible for safety on the railways, including that of workers. These investigations were published at the time, and some of them are now detailed in our ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project.

We’re a collaboration between the University of Portsmouth and the National Railway Museum (NRM) and have – with the help of NRM volunteers – been putting together a fantastic free resource for family historians and genealogists to make use of: a database of details of railway worker accidents covering the UK and Ireland, 1911-15.

The first phase of our project has made use of those state accident reports. Previously the details in the reports were difficult to find, had to be read in person, and weren’t indexed. Finding out if your ancestor had been one of the cases investigated was difficult. Now you can search our free database quickly and easily, available from our website (www.railwayaccidents.port.ac.uk).

This is a huge resource, and we want to make it better known – that’s why we’re coming along to THE Genealogy Show next year.

One of the great things about our project is how we’ve involved volunteers – this is a form of crowd-sourcing, and we’re keen to extend that. There are lots more railway worker accident records out there, and we want to bring them into our database. We’re exploring ways for you to contribute your information, and your family stories too – they’re essential for us to get a wider picture of the accidents, the impact they had and the people behind the accidents.

In addition to the database, we have a host of other resources which help put working life and accidents on the railways in context. Our Twitter feed (@RWLDproject) includes plenty of content and directions to new resources as they come out. Our website features a range of things, including a blog, updated at least once a week, that investigates some of the cases in more detail. We’re particularly pleased that this blog features guest posts, including an increasing number from family historians who’ve discovered the railway worker accidents in their pasts. We’re always open to offers of blog posts, too!

The first phase of our project was so successful that we’ve been able to move on to the next stages. We’re in the final stages of adding details of around 600 cases involving Great Eastern Railway workers who were injured between 1913 and 1923. So, if you’ve a railway ancestor who was based anywhere from London out into East Anglia, then we may have something for you. Particularly interesting is that this resource details what support disabled workers received, in the form of funds to help pay for things like artificial limbs or doctors expenses.

We’re now working on extending our 1911-15 coverage to include 1921-39, making use of the same type of reports (sadly there’s a 6 year gap due to the First World War). This is already well underway, again, with the support of our amazing NRM volunteers, and we expect to add over 7,000 more records in the coming year.

At the same time, we’re working with The National Archives to bring new records in – those produced by the railway companies, covering the late 19th century to the late 1920s. This is a longer term project, but over the next 2 years we estimate we’ll be adding a further 35,000 records. And finally, we’re currently discussing an additional extension with the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick which will bring trades union records into our dataset. Altogether these sources will provide an excellent resource for you, linking lots of different records and helping you to find out more about your railway ancestors and their working lives in the past.

We look forward to seeing you in Birmingham – do come and find us!

Mike Esbester – Academic project lead, ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’



1960s BR triangle beer mat, lower res, RWLD
YPS p.6, trip hazard edit, RWLD
1 Deaths & Injuries

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