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Family History 50s and collaboration

2024 marks the 50th anniversary of three organisations important to the Railway Work, Life & Death project. The Hampshire Genealogical Society (HGS), Leicestershire & Rutland Family History Society (LRFHS) and the Family History Federation (FHF) were all founded in 1974. To mark their anniversaries, in this week’s blog post we wanted to offer a few thoughts on family history and our project, and the HGS, LRFHS and FHF.

Firstly, congratulations to the HGS, LRFHS and FHF! 1974 was clearly a good year to get started. It speaks volumes that both organisations have been active for so long. They’ve helped lots of people over the years, in a range of ways, and will continue to do so. The HGS is hosting an event this weekend to mark the anniversary, which looks like it’ll be a great success.

The HGS, LRFHS and FHF have been very supportive of our project, as organisations and via individuals within the organisations. We’ve been similarly supportive of the HGS, LRFHS and FHF. The collaborative ethos fits with all of our organisations and work – we all benefit from working together. The HGS, LRFHS and FHF have promoted the Railway Work, Life & Death project to their audiences, including working with us in different way. This has helped us raise awareness of what we’re doing and how it might be useful to family historians.

In case you’re not aware of what the Railway Work, Life & Death project does, we’re documenting and making more easily available records of accidents to British and Irish railway workers before 1939. To do this, we work with teams of volunteers at our collaborating institutions – the National Railway Museum and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick, as well as working with The National Archives of the UK.

The volunteers have, at July 2024, transcribed c.48,000 accidents and are working on an estimated 70,000 more. These are available via our free database. They are rich with detail about who was involved in accidents, what happened to them at the time and afterwards. The relevance for family historians – as well as many others! – is clear.

Over the years it’s been brilliant to be able to work with these three organisations now celebrating their golden jubilees. For example, we’ve given talks to HGS groups over the last few years (with another talk coming up in September!), and taken the project to FHF events, like the ‘Really Useful Show’. We’ve also worked with the LRFHS in researching and marking the centenary of the Manton tunnel accident earlier this year (more on that here). What’s really nice about that work is that we’ve packaged the blogs posts about the accident up into a print document, which we’ve shared with the LRFHS and which will be taken out to their events – it’s important that this work has a base in the area the accident happened.

Rather than waiting for family historians to come to us, going out to them shows that we’re serious about engaging with them. After all, if the database that the project volunteers have produced isn’t being used, then the work doesn’t amount to anything! We can supply specialist railway-focused detail, particularly about accidents, filling in gaps in people’s knowledge and understanding.

We’ve benefitted from this, too. We’ve had different perspectives opened up to us; new questions, ideas and approaches suggested. Working with family historians we’ve been able to find out more about the wider family and social lives of the individuals who feature in our database. That helps us understand the people in the round, contextualising their accidents and lives. There’s a tremendous power to this, particularly in making the personal connections – it makes each case much more tangible.

What’s also been brilliant has been how family historians have been so willing to share their family stories. We’ve been able to provide a platform for this, particularly via our blog. Often they’re pleased that people from outside their family might be interested in their ancestor. Usually their ancestors are very ordinary people (in the best sense of the term!), who would otherwise not find a place in historical narratives which tend to focus on the exceptional or the ‘big’ men and women of the past. That we can find a place for them, and introduce them to wider audiences, is really important.

What next? If you’ve got a railway ancestor, or someone you’re researching, and they were hurt in a railway accident – particularly if they feature in our database – then we’re always keen to hear from you! Telling us that you’ve found someone you’re interested in within our database is really helpful. It helps keep us motivated (as we share this with our volunteers and they love to hear that what they’ve been doing is helping you). It also helps us keep going as a project, as we can demonstrate to those above us that what we’re doing is valued by diverse audiences.

If you fancied sharing their stories with a wider audience, we welcome contributions to our blog. There’s more on how to do that here, and some examples of blogs that family historians have written here.

We’re also trying to put together a project with the HGS, focused on the Portsmouth area (where Mike, one of the project co-leads is based). We want to work collaboratively, to share our skills and expertise, and find out more about railway workers in the local community. Plenty of them had accidents and feature in the project database – some of them visualised in the map below (about which, more here). It would be wonderful to work jointly on this.



We know there’s huge potential for collaboration between family historians and our project, in a variety of ways – we’re looking forward to seeing how these opportunities continue to develop in the future. For now, once again, congratulations to the Family History Federation, Hampshire Genealogical Society and Leicestershire and Rutland Family History Society on their 50th anniversaries!

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