Sources for family history
Our key sources of information on individuals who worked for the Post Office are:
Pensions and Gratuities records
Pensions and Gratuities records date from 1719 to 1959. Records before 1860 generally list senior and clerical grades only (before then, not everyone was eligible for a pension).
From 1860 to 1940, pension and gratuity applications (POST 1) were sent to the Treasury. These give details of individuals’ careers, but do not contain personal information such as private addresses or family details. Not all letters have survived.
In November 1940, the Treasury delegated power to grant pensions to the Post Office and so after this date only exceptional cases resulted in a detailed form to the Treasury. From 1940 to 1959, indexes contain one-line entries confirming when an award was paid.
Eligibility for a pension or gratuity depended on length of service and individual circumstances. Success in finding these details is not guaranteed.
Appointment Books (POST 58) provide a register of all employees from 1831 to 1956. Other volumes cover 1737-1774. Arranged by year of appointment and then by surname, they give date of appointment, grade and place of work. These are now searchable online via ancestry.co.uk. A list of abbreviations used in these records is available at the end of the Family History Research Guide.
Before 1831, Treasury Letters (POST 1) sometimes refer to individual appointments. These are usually indexed according to year and place of work.
From 1691 onwards the Establishment Books (POST 59) list people employed by each department at a given time. The details given do vary. Some entries include lower grades, later entries are mostly senior officials.
Other helpful sources
We have a number of other sources which could help to paint a fuller picture of an individual’s life and work:
Post Office Magazines 1850 – Present
The Post Office magazine began in 1850 with the Blackfriars Magazine. Intended as a way of communicating events among Post Office staff, it consisted of sketches and essays, biographical tales, poetry, stories and announcements. Staff were able contribute articles to it.
In June 1890 the Blackfriars Magazine was replaced by a new magazine for the Post Office, entitled St Martins-le-Grand, the Post Office Magazine. Published quarterly, it was intended to appeal to a wider audience. In April 1892, it began to include details of retirements, deaths, appointments and promotions as standard. The magazine was wound up in 1933, and from this date on another publication known simply as The Post Office Magazine was published.
The Post Office Magazine included advertisements, photographs, news, poetry from readers, and articles on what was happening in the various offices and departments around the country. It was stopped on the outbreak of war but resumed again in July 1946. The last issue of The Post Office Magazine was issued in September 1966, when it was replaced by the Courier as the Post Office staff newsletter.
The Courier contains national and regional news and features and was intended to keep staff in touch with news, sport and recreation in the Post Office.
Post Office Guides 1856-1986
Our annual Post Office Guides – and its predecessor the British Postal Guide – list post offices throughout the United Kingdom (and Ireland), showing the different services offered by each post office.
The guides also provide information on postal regulations for inland and foreign and colonial mail, and other information relating to all Post Office services.
Visual Reference Collection 1890-Present
The Visual Reference Collection held at The Postal Museum consists of thousands of images, from the early 1900s through to the late 1990s. Most are photographic prints, of actual photographs, but also of notices, maps showing the circulation of mail, postal-themed paintings and much of the poster collection.
These images can be used to add detail to an ancestor’s life in the Post Office – from what uniform they wore, what their job was like, and what their place of work may have looked like.
Post Office Circulars 1861 – 1969
We have Post Office Circulars available on the shelves in our Search Room. Circulars were issued as a way of giving instruction to staff. Many of them include details of appointments, promotions and vacancies of senior workers, such as Postmasters. The list of appointments include their old position and where they moved to.
During World War One and World War Two, the Post Office Circulars list those lost in action and those awarded medals. If your ancestor was a postal employee and fought in the war, the Circulars may provide more information about him or her.
The Postal Museum has a small library. This includes:
- Reference Library – covering general postal history and transport which includes rail, air, and sea;
- Biographies – notable postal personalities such as Tony Benn, Anthony Trollope and Sir Rowland Hill;
- Wartime – books on the British Army Postal Service, the Post Office Home Guard and the Post Office Rifles;
- Local postal history – books on street names, the London Encyclopaedia, the topography of London, and various local postal history societies’ publications;
- Journals – including those of the Travelling Post Office Society and the Forces Postal History Society;
- Philately – a large collection of philatelic volumes.
GPO Film Unit 1933 – Present
The GPO Film Unit was founded in 1933 and headed by documentary film maker John Grierson.
The GPO Film Unit covered subjects such as transport and communications in Britain and abroad, the home front during the Second World War, British industries, the nation’s health, and developments in the Post Office service itself.
Films such as Housing Problems, Workers and Jobs and Coal Face focus on some of the social issues facing a rapidly changing Britain in the 1930s, and help us understand the postal world at that time.
Where else to look
There are several Family History societies or archives that may be able to assist with your research:
Society of Genealogists
The Society of Genealogists offers a unique combination of research material, guidance and support for those interested in family history and the lives of earlier generations.
Association of Genealogists and Records Agents
The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) was founded to maintain and promote high standards of professional conduct in the field of genealogy and the reporting of historical research
Association of Professional Genealogists
The Association of Professional Genealogists provides one umbrella for the diverse roles of genealogy. Our members come from many different backgrounds. Each one brings a unique blend of talent and experience with them under the umbrella.
The National Archives
The National Archives holds many records relating to family history including Military Service and Operational records, Wills (before 1858), Death Duties and records of Non-Conformists.
Families in British India Society
Of interest to Family Historians and those curious about the Social and Military history of British India.