Tag Archives: genealogy

Discovering a Slice of London Life

After last month’s archive stocktake, I’ve returned to my ongoing cataloguing project. Today I’ll tell you about a terrific discovery I made on the repository shelves.

Matt inspects the record books in the BPMA Search Room.

Matt inspects the record books in the BPMA Search Room.

This is a set of four record books. Three are from the 1930s, while the fourth covers 1941-1956. They’re not labelled with ownership details but, after studying the contents and cross-referencing with other archives in our collections, I believe they originated from the South West (SW) London District Office, which was in Victoria Street at that time.

The books were used to keep records on the sub-post offices in the SW London District. As you may already know, there are two main kinds of post offices in Britain: crown offices directly managed by the Post Office, and sub-post offices operated by independent businesspeople under contract from the Post Office.

The books are divided into many sections, headed with each sub-post office’s address. The three 1930s volumes cover the entire District between them, while the 1940s volume is a partial continuation. Confusingly, the contents aren’t all arranged alphabetically!

Selected addresses from the record books. Clockwise from top left: 15 Gloucester Road, later number 17 (POST 22/385); 226 Wandsworth Road (POST 22/387); Victoria Station (POST 22/388); 56 Brixton Road (POST 22/386). Centre: Harrods (POST 22/385).

Selected addresses from the record books. Clockwise from top left: 15 Gloucester Road, later number 17 (POST 22/385); 226 Wandsworth Road (POST 22/387); Victoria Station (POST 22/388); 56 Brixton Road (POST 22/386). Centre: Harrods (POST 22/385).

What makes these books a treasure is the staggering amount of detail. There are notes of customer complaints, audit records, specifics of equipment installed, and particulars of disciplinary cases. Every note is dated. This is what you’d expect from the central supervision of agents carrying out work for the General Post Office. But there’s so much more.

Sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses often performed postal work alongside another business. The volumes record precise details of any interruptions in postal work. The main motivation was to monitor revenue, but the notes also reflect SW London’s changing streets. The record below is a good example:

Record of post office at 412 Brixton Road being damaged by a bomb on 16 April 1941. (POST 22/388)

Record of post office at 412 Brixton Road being damaged by a bomb on 16 April 1941. (POST 22/388)

This note states that the 412 Brixton Road office was damaged by a bomb on 16 April 1941, and reopened at new premises in the local Bon Marché store. There are also records of crimes at sub-post offices, often including dates when staff were absent to attend the ensuing identity parades and police court sessions. Take a look at the note below:

Report of a foiled break-in. (POST 22/388)

Report of a foiled break-in. (POST 22/388)

This brief report of a foiled break-in is notable for giving the full name of the lady who was living above the office! We can glimpse here the locality that the office served. Often the addresses of customers who complained are also recorded.

Finally, there’s genealogical information. Dated records were kept of sickness absence and compassionate leave taken by sub-postmasters and sub-post mistresses. Whenever an office transferred to a new sub-postmaster, the exact handover date and the departing sub-postmaster’s new home address were recorded. There are also family stories:

Note recording the date and time of the death of the Streatham Hill sub-postmaster's death. (POST 22/386)

Note recording the date and time of the death of the Streatham Hill sub-postmaster’s death. (POST 22/386)

This note records the date (and time!) of the Streatham Hill sub-postmaster’s death. His son was acting sub-postmaster for a few months, then his widow took over the business. All these records were kept for purely business reasons, but the research uses are so much wider than that.

Hopefully, similar records for other areas will be discovered. As I catalogued the record books, I wrote a searchable index of all the sub-offices listed in the notes, with their respective sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. This will appear on our online catalogue in the coming months.

Royal Mail’s Paralympics Hero

Much has been written about how Paralympians have overcome adversity to achieve sporting success. It is also notable that many Paralympians compete in more than one discipline. Team GB’s first London 2012 Paralympics Gold Medal winner Sarah Storey has overcame her disability to win multiple medals in several sports. The same is true with Royal Mail’s Paralympics hero Ian Hayden.

Royal Mail's Gold Medal Winner stamp issued today commemorating Sarah Storey's gold medal win in the Cycling: Track Women's C5 Pursuit.

Royal Mail’s Gold Medal Winner stamp issued today commemorating Sarah Storey’s gold medal win in the Cycling: Track Women’s C5 Pursuit.

Ian Hayden joined the Army in 1970 but suffered injuries to his back, legs and shoulders after being attacked on guard duty in 1974. While this ended his Army career, Ian Hayden was obviously not a man to rest on his laurels – within two years he had started a business and formed the charity All About Ability. He also became active in a variety of sports after leaving the Army, including horse riding, cycling, golf and athletics.

After being asked to open the new disabled entrance to a local Post Office, Ian became an Equal Opportunities Officer and Employment Consultant at Royal Mail Oxford.

Royal Mail’s staff magazine Courier reported in January 1992 that Ian Hayden had been selected for the Barcelona Paralympics. He had previously won two Gold Medals and one Silver Medal at the Seoul Paralympics in 1988, and was also the World Record holder in javelin, discus and shot in the standing position.

Ian Hayden with his medals from the Seoul Paralympics and other championships, with Royal Mail managing director Bill Cockburn. (Courier, January 1992)

Ian Hayden with his medals from the Seoul Paralympics and other championships, with Royal Mail managing director Bill Cockburn. (Courier, January 1992)

Later that year, in the July issue of Courier, it was reported that Ian had been forced to switch from competing in the standing position to competing from a wheelchair. But this proved not to be a problem, as he then went on to break three new records at the national championships, and to break two of them again in international competition.

At the Barcelona Olympics itself Ian Hayden won two Silver Medals, despite injuring his arm whilst getting out of the bath at the Olympic village. The October 1992 issue of Courier reported that this injury caused Ian a great deal of pain, as apart from his physical disabilities Ian was also a haemophilic. Reporter Graham Harvey wrote that Ian “ignored the pain to take silver in the shot and javelin”. Ian himself said of his experience at Barcelona “I was beginning to bleed pretty badly after competing so I had no choice but to withdraw from the discus”, the implication being that had he been able to compete he may have medalled in that event too.

Ian Hayden with his two Barcelona Paralympics Silver Medals, which he won despite an arm injury. (Courier, October 1992)

Ian Hayden with his two Barcelona Paralympics Silver Medals, which he won despite an arm injury. (Courier, October 1992)

Ian Hayden had hoped to go to the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics but injured his back during qualifying. However, in 1995 he completed a sponsored ride from John O Grots to Lands End on a hand-powered bicycle, which raised £100,000 for the British Paralympics Association, so he still managed to contribute to British Paralympics success in Atlanta.

Ian Hayden (front left) with fellow Paralympian Tanni Grey (later Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson), receiving a cheque for £200,000 from postman Brian Burnham (top left) on TV-am in 1992. Also pictured is TV-am presenter Katharyn Holloway. The money was raised for the British Paralympic Team by Royal Mail employees. At this time Royal Mail was the only sponsor of both the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. (Courier, September 1992)

Ian Hayden (front left) with fellow Paralympian Tanni Grey (later Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson), receiving a cheque for £200,000 from postman Brian Burnham (top left) on TV-am in 1992. Also pictured is TV-am presenter Katharyn Holloway. The money was raised for the British Paralympic Team by Royal Mail employees. At this time Royal Mail was the only sponsor of both the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. (Courier, September 1992)

Ian Hayden died aged 64 in 2011, and his obituary appeared in the Oxford Times. The obituary notes that Ian was awarded the MBE in 1994 for services to equal opportunities. His family reflected that “Ian led an amazing life.”

Stamps featuring all Great Britain’s Paralympics gold medal winners will be issued within 24 hours of victory. Visit your Post Office today to buy the stamps, or buy online at www.royalmail.com/goldmedalstamps.

The Royal Mail Archive in London holds back issues of Post Office and Royal Mail staff magazines, which are an invaluable resource for family historians and researchers. Find out more at www.postalheritage.org.uk/genealogy.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live

On 24-26 February we will be attending Who Do You Think You Are? Live at London Olympia. This is the largest family history show in the world and is a great opportunity to meet lots of family history organisations under one roof.

BPMA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

BPMA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

This will be the sixth year that the BPMA has attended this event and we have always enjoyed meeting new people and telling them about our family history sources. Last year we had over 550 people visit our stand over the weekend and this year we would love to meet even more.

BPMA resources at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

BPMA resources at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

As well as having our usual stand in the Society of Genealogists section of the show (tables 116-117), we will also be participating in the new ‘Our Working Past’ area. This area examines the working lives of people in the past. We will have historic uniforms, photographs of postal workers on duty, and staff magazines available for handling and consultation. The staff magazines, in particular, provide a fascinating insight into life in the Post Office and include accounts of social events, stories and jokes.

We look forward to seeing you there!

- Helen Dafter, Archivist

See the Family History Research section of our website to find out how we can help you search for your postal ancestors.

Job in a Million

Today’s episode of The Peoples Post focused on the life of postal workers in the 1930s. Included were extracts from the film Job in a Million, made in 1937 by the GPO Film Unit.

The paternalist air of Job in a Million seems patronising to us today, but it reflected the public service ethos of the time. As well as boys and men, girls, women and disabled people were all employed in large numbers by the Post Office, particularly during and after the First and Second World Wars.

At the start of the First World War the Post Office was once of the largest employers in the world (employing 249,606 people), and in 1934 it was the second largest employer in Britain (employing 227,882 people). Even today Royal Mail Group employs 185,602 people, putting it amongst the UK’s largest employers.

With this history it unsurprising that the majority of the UK population have either worked for or have an ancestor who worked for the Post Office or Royal Mail. Here at the BPMA we receive enquiries every day from family historians wanting information on the working lives of their ancestors. Find out how we can help with your search at www.postalheritage.org.uk/genealogy, or for information on working lives in the Post Office see www.postalheritage.org.uk/history.

- Alison Bean, Web Officer

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage A Job in a Million. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.

BPMA Open Afternoon

Join the staff and Friends of the British Postal Museum & Archive at our annual Open Afternoon on Tuesday 6 December 2011.

Interior of Travelling Post Office

Interior of Travelling Post Office, 1935 (POST 109/375)

See a showcase of our fascinating collections, take part in a range of activities, talks and tours, and find out more about who we are, what we do and what we’ve been up to in the last year. Events will run from 1pm until 8pm, and everyone is welcome to drop in at any time and share a mince pie with us!

Activities include…

Hands-On Family Research: Was your ancestor a postie? Our Archive Search Room Team will show you how to research your family tree.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition - for the first time in London! View the iconic photographs of the Post Office at work in the community sourced from the BPMA Archive.

Behind the Scenes Tours: Discover the treasures of the Archive – from GPO Posters to philatelic gems – led by our Archive & Curatorial Teams.

Tour of our Archive collections which fill over 2.5 miles of shelving and cover social, postal and design history from 1636 to today – at 2pm, 4pm and 5.30pm.

Tour of the Philatelic Studio led my our Curator, Philately at 3.30pm.

Booking welcome; subject to availability.

The History of the Christmas Card: Learn more about the origin of this custom with material provided by our Cataloguing team.

Preservation Surgery: Ask for advice from our conservator on caring for your own collection of family history records, postal history, stamps or photographs – bookings welcome!

Learning Activities Sample Sessions: Find out how our Access & Learning team engage school children and young people in our postal heritage with a range of activities and resources.

Mail Trains: Watch the classic Auden-Britten film production Night Mail (1936), talk to our curators about the Travelling Post Office and join a talk about the history of delivering the mail by rail at 7pm.

Still from Night Mail

Still from Night Mail

For more information and for booking a place on a tour or the Preservation Surgery, please call 020 7239 2037.

The mystery of Miss Gibbs

In 2003, Francesca Millican-Slater bought a second hand postcard for 50p. The postcard, sent from Lincoln to London was addressed to a Miss L Gibbs of 62 Douglas Buildings, Marshalsea Road, Borough. Sent on 15 July 1910, the message on the back simply read:

Be careful tomorrow. A.C.

This message and the woman who received it became an obsession for Francesca, but how much can you uncover from just a name on the back of a postcard? What happens when you start tracing a history that isn’t you own? And why did Miss Gibbs have to be careful tomorrow?

With the release of the 1911 census, Francesca found out more than she ever thought possible. Hear all about it on 3 November when Francesca Millican-Slater gives a talk at the BPMA. For event and booking details see our website.

Postal appointment books now available online via Ancestry

by Gavin McGuffie, Acting Head of Archives and Records Management

Today, the BPMA in partnership with the popular family history website Ancestry.co.uk launched the first name searchable online genealogy resource featuring our material. The Post Office Appointment Books, 1737-1969, listing the men and women appointed to roles within the service over these years includes approximately 1.4 million individual entries.

Postman driver collecting at Shotwick, Cheshire. Women and children queueing in the street to hand over mail. (POST 118/1866)

Postman driver collecting at Shotwick, Cheshire. Women and children queueing in the street to hand over mail. (POST 118/1866)

The source of this data is archive class POST 58 (staff nomination and appointment records) which includes the appointment books from 1831 to 1960, these provide the majority of information for this publication. Prior to 1831 appointment records were not kept uniformly over the country and separate series were produced. In 1831 centralised employment records were first created by the Post Office by copying the relevant minute numbers and brief details relating to appointment, transfer, dismissal, resignation, retirement, or death.

The BPMA signed an agreement with the Generations Network Ltd, the company behind ancestry.co.uk, in March 2009. We already had this series microfilmed. In April 2009 two large boxes of microfilm were transported from Freeling House to Provo, Utah, where Ancestry’s headquarters and scanning unit are based. The material was duly copied and returned to us in September. In November 2009 the indexing (transcribing handwritten names) of the documents by Ancestry’s World Archives Project volunteers began. The results of all this work are now available for anyone with internet access to search.

Some people may have questions about how we have made this data available. There will be issues with accuracy and omissions; both in the original source document and the Ancestry indexing. More significantly people might ask why the BPMA hasn’t done the online publication itself and instead worked with a commercial partner like Ancestry.

The reality here is that the BPMA would not have had the resources to co-ordinate the indexing of over a million entries. Secondly searching for names is free, you only have to pay to access the digital copy of the original record. Finally this material is still available on microfilm (and occasionally original paper where we don’t have a surrogate available) at the BPMA for researchers to use (who can also access the ancestry website at Freeling House); charges will of course still apply for providing copies from microfilm.

Now all this data is online, I’ve been doing a little playing with the database and am pleased to say that out of my random five person search all have proved correct. Please let Ancestry know if you come across any errors.

Ancestry’s publicity emphasises the number of Patricias and Pats who worked for the Post Office. I thought I’d track down some other interesting names. There are eight instances of postal workers (sometimes a new appointment for the same person) named Letter, nine named Parcel (or Parcell), thirteen named Post, five named Van, a hundred or so Stamps, more than 850 Mans (mostly Manns!). I also checked my own name and found twelve McGuffies including Thomas McGuffie’s appointment as a letter carrier at Aberdeen in April 1847.

To all those who use this great resource in the next few weeks and months, good luck searching!

Search the Appointment Books on Ancestry.co.uk.

New found relative of Alfred Knight VC

by Chris Taft, Curator

One of the most useful and interesting aspects of any museum collection is how objects relate to people. Many of the most popular stories that can be told through the collections of the BPMA are those that link to people.

With the current increased interest in tracing family history another fascinating aspect is finding objects that provide a physical link to past members of a family.

One of the most personal objects in the BPMA collection are the medals awarded to Alfred Knight during the First World War. They have featured in a number of BPMA exhibitions including Last Post: Remembering the First World War back in 2008 and more recently Empire Mail: George V and the GPO in 2010.

In the past the BPMA have been in touch with a number of members of Knight’s family but recently we were contacted by Marcus Knight, a relative in another branch of the family.

Marcus Knight viewing Alfred Knight's medals

Marcus Knight viewing Alfred Knight's medals

Marcus had only recently learnt of his link with Alfred Knight and the fact that the former Post Office worker had received the Victoria Cross during the war.

The BPMA were delighted to be able to give Marcus the opportunity to view at first hand the medals awarded to his relative.

Find out more about Alfred Knight on our website. A touring version of our exhibition Last Post: Remembering the First World War is currently at The Royal Engineers Museum, Kent – see our website for details.

The BPMA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live

The BPMA will be attending Who Do You Think You Are? Live again this year. The show is Europe’s most comprehensive family history event.

The event will take place from 25th-27th February at Olympia, London. The BPMA can be found in the Society of Genealogists section of the show, on stands 111 and 112.

Last year's BPMA stall at Who Do You Think You Are? Live.

Last year's BPMA stall at Who Do You Think You Are? Live.

If you visit our stall you’ll be able to discuss our family history resources with staff, or find out more about the BPMA in general. We will also have a small selection of shop products available for purchase.

Last year we spoke to over 500 visitors over the weekend. Hopefully we will be speaking to you this year.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2010

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2010

For more information about the show visit www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.co.uk.

A special ticket offer of two tickets for £25 is available from www2.seetickets.com/whodoyouthinkyouare/ or by phoning 0844 873 7330. Quote the discount code EX2425 when booking. A £2 transaction fee applies. Offer ends 19th Feb 2011.

We Love Your Blog

I Love Your Blog awardToday one of our favourite blogs, Quad Royal, declared us a blog they love. As part of accepting this award it is now up to us to name some of our favourite blogs. Here they are, in no particular order:

Pakistan Philatelic Net Club
A regularly updated blog with articles on stamps, coins, banknotes and major auctions.

World Stamp News and Philately News
These blogs are updated all the time, and are a great way to find out about the latest stamp issues around the world.

Machin Mania
An interesting and well-researched blog with Machin enthusiasts (and newcomers) in mind.

AKPhilately
Adrian Keppel, a regular contributor to various stamp magazines, blogs about stamps from all over the world, but with a focus on Europe and former British colonies.

Norvic Philatelics
The blog of stamp dealers Norvic Philatelics is a great news source for the latest British issues, and often documents errors.

My Philately
Eric in France collects mint stamps from France and China, all stamps issued in 1966, stamps about frogs and toads, and rugby-themed stamps. He regularly displays gems from his eclectic collection on this blog.

Post Secret
Something a little different (and strictly for adults)…a fascinating art project inviting people to confess their secrets on a handmade postcard.

So Much Pileup
A graphic design-focused blog which celebrates 1960s-1980s stamps on Fridays.

The Philatelic Database
A website and blog with the serious philatelist in mind.

The Stamp Collecting Round-Up
A favourite of many stamp collectors which always offers something different and interesting.

The Wandering Genealogist
John Gasson’s blog chronicling his research into his family tree. John also blogs about postcards, maps and walking.

Pushing the Envelope
The Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s blog – well written and informative.

Letter Writer’s Alliance, Bashfully Designed and The Missive Maven
Stamps, mailart, ephemera, design, stationery…these three creative blogs will inspire you to send beautiful, handmade letters and cards to your friends.

Postcardese
An exploration of vintage postcards.