September 28, 2021

Railway Ancestors at The National Railway Museum

I was asked recently to do some research for someone on an ancestor of theirs who worked for one of the railway companies. Now, the majority of railway employee records are held at the National Archives so I wasn’t sure how I could help but a call to The National Railway Museum opened my eyes to what they have available.

The "Search Engine" at The National Railway Museum, York

The "Search Engine" at The National Railway Museum, York

The reference section at the NRM is cringingly called The Search Engine and previously I just thought it was a place for train spotters to look at old trains. It is located on the balcony of the main hall and to get there you have to run the gauntlet of the jobsworths at the main entrance who try and make you buy guidebooks etc. But once you get there it really is a good resource and the staff are very helpful.

As well as researching for a customer I was also interested in finding out about some of the previous inhabitants of my house for my house history project. So I’ll use these as examples of what you can find.

The most useful resource from a family history perspective are the Railway Company magazines. These are bound as books for each year and each book contains the monthly magazines for that particular year. They seem to start from about 1900 or thereabouts so don’t expect to find someone who died in 1873!

I was looking for three names; Horatio Lace (1857-1926); Fred Rowland (1862-1930) and Stephen Seal (1850-1924) – all of whom lived in my house at one time or another.

What the railway magazines can give you is Retirement details, obituaries and pension details. If you are lucky there will be a picture of your ancestor in the magazine either at his retirement or fr his obituary. These short paragraphs are not limited to important people in the Railway companies either; anyone with a good length of service is mentioned.

Here are some examples of what I found:

Most people living in York worked for North Eastern Railway which became London and North Eastern Railway in the mid 1920’s so I looked primarily at their magazines.

Horatio Lace died in 1926 so that is where I stated looking, I quickly found a notice of his death in the N.E.R. Superannuation listings :

Horatio Lace - N.E.R. Superannuation Fund

It gives me his exact date of birth and death date and also tells me when he retired. Unfortunately I didn’t find an obituary for him.

Next place to look was in the 1922 year book for his retirement and quickly found another listing from the N.E.R. Superannuation fund of retirements:

Horatio Lace's retirement notice - North Eastern Railway Magazine

Perhaps there was a write up for his retirement? Unfortunately there wasn’t but it looks like there should have been as in the next month’s issue I found this:

Horatio Lace on his retirement - North Eastern Railway Magazine

What an excellent moustache! He looks a very dapper man indeed. Some of the later magazines are indexed so I searched for Lace and found a reference for Horatio’s son; Horatio Demaine Lace in the September 1949 magazine.

Horatio Demaine Lace on his retirement

So I’ve found photographs of 2 generations of a family I’m researching together with some precise dates and a bit of personal information. I wasn’t as lucky with the other two people although I did find Fred Rowland’s  death entry in the N.E.R. Superannuation listings which gave me his precise birth and death dates. I couldn’t find any mention of Stephen Seal so perhaps he worked for a different Rail company.

All in all an excellent resource.

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