Photograph of railway guard by steam train, 1884 (Catalogue reference: COPY 1/368/f256)

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.

  • What do I need to know before I start?

    • Try to find out:

      • the name of the railway company
      • date of birth, death, or time of employment
      • place of residence or employment
      • type of work undertaken
  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Records held elsewhere

      Visit Search Engine at the National Railway Museum, York, to find staff magazines of the major railway companies of the 20th century as well as oral history recordings from former railway workers and photographs.

      Visit the Steam Museum Library and Archive to find publications, magazines, photographs and other collections relating to the Great Western Railway. Visits are by appointment only.

      Consult appendix 3 of Railway records: a guide to sources by Cliff Edwards (Public Record Office, 2001), which has a guide to railway company records held by local archives.

      Post 1948, few staff records have been retained but staff records cards summarising employment have been and are distributed amongst relevant county records offices. However these record cards are subject to the Data Protection Act 1998 and may be closed.   

      You can also try searching for the railway company in our catalogue to see what records are held elsewhere. Refine your results using the filters.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

    • Websites

      Browse the Railway Ancestors website - the Railway Ancestors Family History Society can help you research your railway ancestors (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.).

    • Books

      Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives' Bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives' Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.

      Read Railway records: a guide to sources by Cliff Edwards (Public Record Office, 2001).

      Read Railway ancestors by David T Hawkings (2nd edition) (The History Press, 2008).

      Consult the British Railways pre-grouping atlas and gazetteer (Ian Allen Publications, 1976) or the Railway and commercial gazetteers to find out which companies owned or operated through a particular station.

Did you know?

It will be difficult to find the records of a railway worker unless you know the name of the company they worked for - see 'What other resources will help me find information?'.

The extent of the information you might find in staff records is variable, but the records of some railway companies have name indexes.
Most of the men who worked on the construction of railways were casual employees and very few records of their service survive.