Great Western Railway Shareholders 1835-1932
Great Western Railway Shareholders Index
What is the Great Western Railway shareholders index?
This is not an index of railway staff, but of shareholders in the railway. The Society of Genealogists produced its GWR Shareholders Index from ledgers created by the Great Western Railway and now in the Society’s possession. The Great Western Railway’s original ledgers were compiled by the company for transactions relating to all shareholdings which changed hands other than by simple sale.
The GWR called the ledgers Probate Books, which reflects the fact that the great majority of such share transfers (approximately 95%) were as a result of the death of a shareholder and their shares changing hands during the administration of the deceased’s estate. The proportion of the GWR’s total number of shareholders included in the Society of Genealogists’ GWR Shareholders Index is not known but is estimated to be between 50% and 75%; this is because the railway shares were regarded as gilt-edged stock to be held for the long term.
The index currently contains details for approximately 440,000 individuals, with a total number of 570,464 records and 153,569 events entered into the registers. A record is an entry for an individual in the database, including not just shareholders but executors, beneficiaries and others involved in the transfer of shareholdings. An event is a disposal of a shareholder under a will or an intestacy following death, or otherwise than by simple sale during the lifetime of the shareholder.
These records have been contributed by the Society of Genealogists (SoG).
The Great Western Railway
The Great Western Railway, also known affectionately as "God's Wonderful Railway", was built to link London to the West Country, South Wales and the South West of England. Bristol merchants were desperate for effective transport links to London, to prevent the emergence of Liverpool as the country's second port.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the engineer on the project, personally surveying the route. He was also a shareholder, and appears in the Index following his death in 1859.
A century of records including some pre-dating civil registration
The registers were started when the GWR was created in 1835 and the series continues through to 1932. Each volume contains between 450 and 600 individual entries, which may relate to an event occurring up to20 years earlier than the making of the entry. In almost all entries, the name of the shareholder is given together with an address, the names of the other parties (executors or legatees for deaths; husbands for marriages) and dates of death, probate, marriage or other event. After 1910, a number of entries relate to the change of trustees of Friendly Societies as a result of a death.
Events dating back to 1806
It appears that there were 4 to 6 volumes in use simultaneously after 1870, each covering a one to two year range of entries.
The date range covered in each volume starts about 10 years before the entries were made, but there are a number of earlier entries dating back up to twenty years in most volumes, with the earliest entry seen being a baptism in 1806, but this is an isolated exception. There are a few entries for the return of documents after 1932.
The Registers, which the Railway titled "Probate Books", appear to be a record of documents produced to the company in support of the change of ownership or name and frequently the disposition of the documents is recorded.
Search for Irish, Scottish and overseas ancestors, as well as English and Welsh
The majority of events are deaths in England and Wales, the split of events within the records is as follows:Event
- Death 94%
- Marriage 1.4%
- Power of Attorney 0.8%
- Change of Name 0.8%
- Lunatics 0.1%
- Bankrupts 0.07%
- Others 2.83%
Most events relate to individuals in England and Wales, but there are also a significant number of Scottish, Irish and overseas records. The figures are:Location
- England & Wales 93.6%
- Scotland 4%
- Ireland 1.4%
- Overseas 1%
Nearly 571,000 records - find names, dates, places for key events
The Index lists names, dates, places and the event or role of the person listed. Some people appear on two or more occasions, for instance those solicitors who acted as professional executors to estates.
The number of events, records and individuals are:
|Number of events||Number of
Read more about details included in the records in the Great Western Railway Knowledge Base article.
Occupations are given for about 75% of the individual shareholders, but with a large number being "Gentleman", "Widow" or "Spinster"; at an early stage in the work, it was decided to omit occupation from the index.
Why should I be interested in the original documents?
It is always advisable in family history, wherever possible, to view original documents and records rather than relying on transcriptions. Not only does this practice ensure the accuracy of your research, as you can see an entry for yourself, but it also allows you to understand the record in context.
Viewing the original document will give you the full address of the proprietor, executor(s), and recipient where these were available, as well as additional notes.
The scanned images will give all the entries on a particular folio.
Due to the fragility of the original books, these cannot be consulted at the Library of the Society of Genealogists.
Examples of original documents you can view on our site:
The Society of Genealogists is grateful to all those volunteers who participated in the creation of this index.
The following all worked on the indexing project:
David Horwill, Elizabeth Merralls, Phil Warne, Sue Davis, Michael Bunting,David Walsh, Douglas Parrock, Kathy Elam, Anita Nichols and Frank Hardy.
How to search the Great Western Railway Shareholders records
It's always best to start searching with basic information, like your ancestor's first and last name. If there are too many results, you can refine your search and add more detail.
Click the 'refine search' button on the search results page to return to this search box and add more information.
Why were shares in the Great Western Railway transferred?
The most common event causing shares to be passed from one person to another was the death of a shareholder.
When a shareholder died, his or her shares passed according to the terms of their will to their beneficiaries. The administration of this was handled by their executors.
'Executor' is therefore the most common role in the Great Western Railway Shareholders records, particularly as it was usual for there to be more than one executor dealing with the deceased's estate. Executors could have been the deceased's next of kin, other relatives, friends or professionals (including lawyers).
Shares in the Great Western Railway might also be transferred upon a person's marriage, if they changed their name or were declared bankrupt.
Can't find who you're looking for?
- Try leaving some search boxes empty. The only information you need to enter is a last name, everything else is optional and could be excluding relevant results.
- Search a wide year range. These years relate to the date that the shares were transferred and so are often the year that the original shareholder died, but it's not uncommon for there to be a slight delay.
- Keep the 'include variants' boxes underneath the name fields ticked. This means your search results will include spelling variations of the names you've entered.
- If your ancestor's name could be easily misspelled, try using a wildcard search. Just use a * symbol in place of a letter or multiple letters. For example, instead of searching for Jennings you could search for Je*ngs or *enning*.