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Family history

The Modern Records Centre and its records have proved increasingly useful to family historians around the globe who are tracing the lives and activities of their ancestors. Although the records in its care are not exactly tailor-made sources for the family historian, and those sources that can be used are few in number (the Centre does not generally take in membership records), nevertheless certain collections can yield useful information.

The Centre holds an unrivalled collection of British trade union archives, and these in particular have been used to explore more about the working lives of various individuals. This section of the website is intended to provide a guide to those collections and sources that are of particular interest and use to genealogists.

Researchers are encouraged to visit the Centre in person. The Centre's staff can only do a very limited amount of searching for a given enquiry. Thus we can only accept enquiries concerning one individual. For detailed or more extensive enquiries you are very welcome to use the Centre in person or to arrange for a professional researcher to visit on your behalf.

Please be aware that trade union membership registers rarely contain a great deal of information on each member and that if you have enough information to conduct a search it is very possible that you already have more information about the individual than the registers will provide. None of these sources provide detailed employment histories of individual members.

It is usually necessary to provide a reasonably firm date of admission or death in order for Centre staff to be able to conduct a search, as the sources are rarely indexed.

Digitised material

Some membership records and First World War records have been digitised and are available through Findmypast. Images or transcripts are available through the company on a pay-per-view or subscription basis, though the index that they have produced can be searched without charge.

We are in the process of digitising some of the trade union journals held at the Modern Records Centre. These can include some information about individual members as well as broader background information about the industries in which they worked.

Glossary of trades and occupations

A list of trades and occupations commonly searched for in the Centre's archives, with definitions (adapted from A Dictionary of Occupational Terms, Ministry of Labour, 1927), as many of the trades will be unfamiliar to modern researchers.

The list includes links which provide more detailed information on the trade unions relating to each trade or occupation and the genealogical sources relevant to them available in the Modern Records Centre.


The following free-to-view indexes are available on our website:

Index of members of the United Society of Boilermakers and Iron and Steel Shipbuilders who died on active service in the First World War

Index of deceased members of the Operative Society of Masons, Quarrymen and Allied Trades of England and Wales, 1836-1921

Index of of individuals mentioned in the pages of 'The Seaman' for either meritorious service or death between September 1914 - December 1918

Family history subject guides



Carpenters and joiners

House decorators and painters


Stonemasons and quarrymen

Engineering and heavy industry:

Boilermakers, shipbuilders and structural iron and steel workers

Forge and smithy workers



Steam engine makers

Printing and publishing:


Printing and paper workers


Bus, tramway and cab workers

Merchant seamen

Railway workers

Other trades:


Carvers, picture-frame makers and gilders