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Last updated:07 May 2015

Family history

Information for family historians

The WCML collection can help family historians in two ways:

- Information about individuals

- General information on occupations, social conditions and campaigns


Information about individuals

Our collection contains personal information of a limited number of individuals, such as political activists and campaigners.

Trade Unions

Our Trade union records are the most popular source for family historians in our collection and contain details of active union members. Here are some possible routes to information about your ancestor:

  • If they were an active officer within a union, such as a branch secretary, district or Amalgamated Engineering Union badgenational officer their details may appear in annual and quarterly reports or their contributions might be recorded in the minutes of meetings or other reports of events.
  • If a union member received sick pay, a pension or other monies from a union this might have been recorded.
  • Lists of deceased members are sometimes recorded in annual reports.

Searching for an ancestor in trade union records can take some time as the records have no indexes, individuals' names are not in alphabetical order and lists of individuals are arranged by branch.

Our Working lives section has lists of trade union records that may be useful to family historians for each occupation.


Information about ancestors' lives

Many occupations from the past have now disappeared.Title page of volume 1 of the Book of Trades

  • Cordwainer - shoe maker
  • Bobbin Ligger - placed the spools for spinning
  • Fettler - cleaned and maintained mill machinery
  • Fuller - cleaned and thickened cloth by beating and washing it
  • Saggarmaker's Bottom Knocker - made the bases of saggars that were used to hold pottery during kiln firing

The WCML has several ‘books of trades' from the 18th and 19th Century that provide descriptions and illustrations of occupations. Also our trade union records can provide some useful insights into conditions at work in the past.

We also have many books detailing campaigns and strikes as well as newspaper reports of events and meetings.

Other parts of our collection can provide helpful information for creating a picture of your ancestors' lives:

  • The unstamped press
  • Overviews of housing and social conditions
  • Reports of events and meetings
  • Contemporary books and journals (eg The Woman Worker, The Colliery Workers' Magazine, Manchester Faces and Places)

The following books may also be of help in tracing ancestors:

Mark Crail, Tracing your labour movement ancestors: a guide for family historians (Pen and Sword , 2009) ISBN: 978-1-84884-059-1

Anthony Burton, Tracing your shipbuilding ancestors: a guide for family historians (Pen and Sword , 2010) ISBN: 978-1-84884-096-6

Vivien Teasdale, Tracing your textile ancestors: a guide for family historians (Pen and Sword , 2009) ISBN: 978-1-84415-870-6

Diane K Drummond, Tracing your railway ancestors: a guide for family historians (Pen and Sword , 2010) ISBN: 978-1-84415-864-5

John Grenham, Tracing your Irish ancestors: the complete guide 2nd ed. (Gill and Macmillan, 1999)  ISBN: 0-7171-2796-6

Brian Elliott, Tracing your coalmining ancestors: a guide for family historians (Pen and Sword , 2014) ISBN: 978-1-84884-239-7

The library has copies available for reference in the Reading Room.  Click here for information about visiting the library