Tag Archives: ancestry

Royal Mail Ship Titanic – centenary 2012

The centenary of the Titanic’s sinking is a good opportunity of reminding the world about the fascinating material concerning the ill-fated Royal Mail Ship in The Royal Mail Archive.

Three years ago the BPMA blogged on the subject telling the story of the post office on the ship and the bravery of the five postal clerks who went down with the ship. This blog shows images of a number of items in the collection including telegrams sent about the sinking. We also included the Titanic story in the 2010 Empire Mail exhibition at Guildhall.

This lantern slide comes from a series of slides of early 20th century Royal Mail Ships (in our museum collection).

Titanic leaving Southampton (2012-0126/04)

Titanic leaving Southampton (2012-0126/04)

Another item I particularly like is this blue print (from POST 29/1117) showing the position of the Titanic’s (as well as that of its sister ship the Olympic) post office (situated on G-deck) and mail room (on the Orlop deck) below, both almost at the bottom of the ship.

Blue print of mail room on Titanic (POST 29/1117)

Blue print of mail room on Titanic (POST 29/1117)

Titanic blue print, detail of Post Office (POST 29/1117)

Titanic blue print, detail of Post Office (POST 29/1117)

Titanic blue print, detail of Mail Room (POST 29/1117)

Titanic blue print, detail of Mail Room (POST 29/1117)

This time I also decided to focus on the two Post Office employees (the post office was also manned by three US postal workers), James Bertram Williamson and John Richard Jago Smith (known as Jago), using their details to interrogate the BPMA’s family history records. These sources can be used in a similar way to track down details of postal ancestors in your family.

Both men can be found (at least) three times on the British Postal Appointment books, available online via Ancestry (given the various permutations on their initials I am by no means certain I found all their entries in the books). Williamson starts as a Sorting Clerk in Dublin in December 1896 (POST 58/96), eventually ending up in Southampton in November 1908 as a ‘SC and T’ (Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist, POST 58/104).

Williamson’s appointment as a sorting clerk in Dublin listed at bottom (POST 58/96)

Williamson’s appointment as a sorting clerk in Dublin listed at bottom (POST 58/96)

Jago, a Cornishman, began as a Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist at Liskeard in May 1898 (POST 58/96) before moving along the coast to Southampton in September 1901 (POST 58/98).

Smith’s appointment in Southamption. His name is the second one listed under September. (POST 58/98)

Smith’s appointment in Southamption. His name is the second one listed under September. (POST 58/98)

On 5 May 1912 all ranks of the Southampton postal staff attended a service at St Peters Church in Southampton in memory of their colleagues and a later memorial was erected. The Postal and Telegraph Services also placed a memorial plaque in the church at St Keverne, Cornwall, in memory of Jago Smith.

The GPO staff journal St Martin’s le Grand (which is currently being digitised for the BPMA by SDS Heritage, who kindly supplied this image) also paid tribute to the two men in July 1912, albeit incorrectly initialling Williamson as ‘E D’ and calling him an ‘Englishman’!

The Postal Clerks of the Titanic, St Martin’s le Grand, July 1912 (POST 92/1141)

The Postal Clerks of the Titanic, St Martin’s le Grand, July 1912 (POST 92/1141)

The two men feature again in the Treasury correspondence (POST 1). This is a key family history source since GPO pension and gratuity (including for death while an employee) applications were sent to the Treasury from 1860 to 1940. The index (POST 1/471) entry for the men stands out on the page below.

Index entries for the two men (POST 1/471)

Index entries for the two men (POST 1/471)

Though neither man was married nor had children both contributed to the well being of their families. Williamson sent ‘the whole of his trip allowance (£8 to £10 a month) to his mother’, who had no other means. Jago contributed £15 a week to his father and sister’s support.

This letter from September 1912 (POST 1/449, pages 405-6) which details their dependents goes on to emphasise:

Mr Herbert Samuel [the Postmaster General] is strongly of the opinion that compensation should be paid, in one form or another, to the relatives of the deceased officers … [having] regard to the exceptional nature of the case, and the unfortunate effect which the refusal of compensation would almost necessarily produce in Parliament and on public opinion.

Letter concerning the dependents of Williamson and Jago (1).

Letter concerning the dependents of Williamson and Jago (1).

Letter concerning the dependents of Williamson and Jago (2).

Letter concerning the dependents of Williamson and Jago (2).

A later letter (POST 1/450, pages 725-6) seeks clarification on the nature of the payment.

There is also a very large file on the issue of compensation for valuable mail lost on the ship (POST 29/1395B) from which our copies of the telegrams concerning the sinking come.

Another former postal worker who died on board was John George ‘Jack’ Phillips. In April 1902 at the age of fifteen he joined the Post Office as a ‘Learner’ at Godalming in Surrey (POST 58/98). He trained as a telegraphist leaving in March 1906 for further study at the Marconi Company’s Wireless Telegraphy Training School. He worked as a wireless operator on various liners and in a station at Clifden, Galway before joining the Titanic at Belfast. As senior wireless operator on the ship he sent many of the messages asking for assistance from other vessels as the Titanic went down. (For more on this see our blog post on Marconi and the Post Office.)

The BPMA has also this year been assisting Royal Mail and Canada Post on their special products. This commemorative sheet has been produced by Royal Mail; these products by Canada Post. In this vein, our curator of philately Douglas Muir helped debunk the myth that this photograph is mail being loaded onto the Titanic. Sadly it is not.

We’ll be showing some of the BPMA’s original Titanic documents (including telegrams on the sinking) in The Royal Mail Archive search room prior to Julian Stray’s talk Disaster at Sea! The talk is on 19 April at 7pm, see our website for full details.

Gavin McGuffie – Head of Archives

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.

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.