FIND TYNE & WEAR FAMILY
Each month we look at the regional resources that can help you find your forebears This month, Jonathan Scott returns to Tyne & Wear to explore the archives that preserve the area’s shipbuilding, coalmining and industrial heritage
Tyne & Wear is formed of five distinct boroughs that were once parts of Northumberland and County Durham. As a result, some genealogical material, including original parish registers, reside at the respective county record offices. However, the Tyne & Wear Archives in Newcastle not only holds microfilm copies of parish registers from throughout the area, meaning you won’t necessarily have to visit all three repositories during your research, but it also looks after vast collections that record the social and industrial upheaval of the Industrial Revolution.
The Archives and Discovery Museum are housed in what was once the headquarters of the North East branch of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, founded in 1863, which eventually moved out in 1977.
Blandford House was taken over by the Museum in 1981 and still has some grand features from an elegant 1930s refurbishment – an elaborate stained glass window at the entrance to the AArchives,es, and some impressive lavatories designed by local firm Adamsez – whose archive is still preserved here.
Since our last visit, the Archive research room has been bolstered by the installation of the BFI Mediatheque, a digital jukebox of fifilm and TV featuring many of the best, rarest and most extraordinary titles in the BFI National Archive – all available free of charge. The Mediatheque also includes moving images from the North East Film Archive ( northeastfilmarchive.com), itself based at Teesside University, Middlesbrough.
Archivist Alan Hayward says: “It’s proved very popular. Not least because the Mediatheque is a good place for people whose primary interest is not genealogy… while they wait for partners doing their research. Plus, there’s lots of footage for local historians in the films from the North East Film Archive.”
Many records relating to coal, heavy industry and shipbuilding are housed by Tyne & Wear Archives. Shipbuilding in the area was initially driven by the need for vessels to transport coal and by the 18th century both industries dominated the Riverside – Sunderland was rapidly becoming the world’s largest shipbuilding town.
However, the archives reflect the fact that the people in charge of the shipyards put a lot more effort into recording the ships they built than the people who worked for them. “Some personnel records do survive,” Alan says, “but there were so many transient workers who came and went. The records of the ships themselves, though, are very detailed.”
The Archive research room has been bolstered by the installation of the BFI Mediatheque digital jukebox
One useful source is the registers of apprentice shipbuilders, which are well used by researchers. Alan says that he also recently came across a Sunderland shipyard wage book from 1801, revealing what was paid to the average worker. To see more examples, you could try searching the online catalogue for the Swan Hunter shipbuilders archive – comprising more than 11,000 records. One of the firm’s most famous vessels was RMS
Mauretania, the world’s largest and fastest ship when she was launched in 1906.
This pattern is repeated in many of the coalmining records held here. One of the more useful genealogical sources are records of the Northumberland and Durham Miners Permanent Relief Fund Friendly Society, established in 1862 following the Hartley Pit Disaster, for provision of relief
to miners and their families in cases of fatal accidents or injuries.
The records are largely unindexed so you will need to know the place where your ancestor worked and when they were involved in an accident.
Although there haven’t been large-scale digitisations since our last visit, there are plenty of developments in the pipeline – both online and in the searchroom. For one, they are involved in the National Digitisation Consortium drive to digitise pre-1914 school registers. Alan reported that their own significant collection from more thant 100 schools had recently le eft the building for digitisation. ItI is hoped that the registers might appeara online sometime later this yeary ( findmypast.co.uk/ school-registers).s
There’s also a busy team of volunteersv who have compiled an in ndex to police service registers, anda are currently working on churchc registers, Roman Catholic baptismb registers, and Poor Law materialm including Boards of GuardiansG Minutes. “People tend notn to look at items like these as it takest so long to work through – peoplep are put off. Unless you knowk a definite date already then it t is very time-consuming. But withw an index it makes life much easier and should make the records much more popular.”
At the moment, most of these indexes are available in hard copy on the Archive shelves, but the long-term plan is to work with a commercial website and get these and other sources ‘out there’.
Commercial sensitivities mean Alan couldn’t reveal details, but he said there would be soon be news of a major digitisation collaboration – and it would be a popular, well-used source.
Alan says he’d also like to see magistrates court registers digitised and indexed in the future. “Some of these are so valuable, and can reveal so much about a person. We have thousands of magistrates records but again, people tend to steer clear as it’s so time-consuming. I hope these are indexed and made available, as there must be so many skeletons in cupboards waiting to be discovered.”
Meanwhile, lots of activity has gone into various online projects. These include the new Hidden Newcastle app and the HLFfunded ‘Wor Life’ WW1 project ( twmuseums.org.uk/worlife), commemorating the impact of war in the area.
You can also find lots of Archive material on the Flickr stream, including warships built before and during the conflict on the River Tyne, plus images of launch parties. They’ve also recently posted material relating to the Birtley Belgians – a group of wounded Belgian soldiers who manned a Tyneside munitions factory in Birtley. Nearly 4,000 Belgians came, setting up their own community which they named Elizabethville, after their queen. You can explore these and other image sets at flickr.com/photos/twm_news/sets.
Turn the page for details of the bonus online content
The Tyne Bridge over
the River Tyne as seen from Gateshead
The RMS Mauretania was built at Tyne & Wear's famous Swan
An 1834 engraving entitled 'Newcastle upon Tyne from New Chatham, Gateshead'