Archivist Helen gives some useful tips on how to research your family history, looks at the Post Office's historical records and introduces our new Discovery Room.

Since the Discovery Room opened in July last year we have seen an increasing number of visitors researching their family history. You may wonder why family historians are coming to The Postal Museum but we do have quite a lot of information which is potentially of interest to them.

Interior of Old Sorting Office, Bristol (Post118_1245)

At the start of the twentieth century, the Post Office was one of the largest employers in the country. Due to the numbers employed many people have a postal worker somewhere in the family tree. The archive holds employment records in the form of appointment indexes, pension records, and minute books.

The appointment indexes are available on Ancestry, which you can also access in our Discovery Room. We hold indexes from 1831 through to the early 1960s. They provide details of the area an employee worked in and the job they held.

A typical appointment index entry

The pension records cover the period 1859 to 1969 and are particularly detailed before 1940. They include details of the various positions an employee held during their time at the Post Office. Other details may include the length of employment, conduct, absence and cause of retirement. After 1940 the records usually only document that a pension was awarded and don’t provide additional details. The standard age of retirement was 60 years.

A typical pension application

Lump sum gratuities were also awarded in some cases. The most common types of gratuity were for women leaving the Post Office to get married (marriage gratuity) and for the families of those who died while working for the Post Office (death gratuities).

A typical minute entry

Other sources of information for family historians are the minute books which can be especially useful if your ancestor was dismissed from the Post Office, or subject to other disciplinary action. Between 1890 and 1933 the staff magazines include details of some promotions, retirements and deaths of pensioners. Even if you can’t find your ancestor in the records, the magazines provide a colourful insight into what their working life may have been like.

Post Office Magazine Cover, POM195311

While our records provide information about the working life of postal employees, they do not contain personal details such as home address or next of kin. Our welcoming Discovery Room staff are always happy to help you get started with your family history. Just visit us on the first floor of the Postal Museum.

The Discovery Room resources are free to use. Please bring as much information as you can about your ancestor-date of birth or employment are particularly useful. Also, please bring identification in case you wish to access original pension records or minute books.

Photograph of The Discovery Room at The Postal Museum

We look forward to meeting you soon!

– Helen Dafter, Archivist