We want your accidents!

Well – hopefully not your own accidents, but we are interested in any cases of accidents to railway workers in the past about which you have information. Read on to find out more – including a request for your help!

Followers on Twitter will have seen our call a few weeks’ ago for suggestions of things it would be useful for us to do to enhance the project. The most popular idea you came up with was – happily – one we’ve long been hoping to get started: a facility through which people can contribute details of staff accidents that they’ve found in their research.

We know that our project data so far (& that which is coming) will only scratch the surface of the total cases of railway employees who were injured or killed at work – numbering in the hundreds of thousands, if not more. Partly that’s because some records don’t survive (particularly the earlier you go back). Partly that’s because the official record only captured a small percentage of the total. Sadly, worker accidents often seem to have been viewed as ‘just things that happened’ and they were given little attention.

That leaves an awful lot of accidents we don’t know about. Some of that, though, is a product of the sources we’re using in the project. Our volunteers are transcribing the more official sources – those records produced by the railway companies, the trades unions and the state officials who investigated worker accidents. But there are lots of other sources that give us information about railway worker accidents: things like newspaper reports, coroners’ inquests, census returns and civil registration documents (birth, marriage and – in particular – death certificates), and personal testimony, including family stories passed down through the generations.

The idea of a submit-your-own tool came to us in the early days of the project, as we soon had people getting in touch to volunteer details of accidents. Some of these have turned into blog posts (see here and here, for instance), although for practical reasons we’ve not yet been able to get the cases themselves into the database.

Most frequently the offers came from family historians who in researching their family past had uncovered a railway worker who’d had an accident and who wasn’t yet in our database. Sometimes we had people volunteering further details of a case that was in the database. This might be family recollections (such as this one), though usually it’s been a case of incorporating more sources (such as newspaper reports, photos or things like census or birth, marriage and death records – for example, this case or this one).

Either way, it quickly confirmed what we’d already suspected, that people are very generous and are interested in sharing. However, so far we’ve been focusing on working with our volunteer teams at the institutions who are contributing the core project data. As a result, we’ve not had the time or resources to get a submit-your-own facility up and running.

We mentioned that we’d put a call out on Twitter for suggestions. The reason behind that lay in a funding bid we are preparing. One of the things that is important to our project is how we involve people in what we’re doing. Rather than just put the funding bid together, we wanted to see what you would like us to do – hence asking for your thoughts. As a result, we’re writing that facility for submitting your accidents into the funding bid. Obviously there’s no guarantee that we’ll get the funding, but we’re keeping fingers crossed.

And here’s the request. We’ll be submitting the bid in a couple of weeks’ time. It would be really helpful if anyone who reads this post and either things the submit-your-own facility would be a good idea or who has an accident they’d be willing to contribute could let us know. We’d be very grateful – and it may just help tip the balance in our favour on the funding bid, as well as provide more for our database as we expand in the future!

You can contact us via Twitter (@RWLDproject), over email (railwayworkeraccidents[@]gmail.com) or through this form.

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