Discover the names of shareholders in the Great Western Railway (GWR). The Society of Genealogists produced its GWR Shareholders Index from ledgers created by the Great Western Railway that are now in the Society’s possession. The GWR’s original ledgers were compiled by the company for transactions relating to all shareholdings that changed hands other than by simple sale. 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.
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 as follows:
The records may provide the following information.
Column title in index
First name – Entered as shown in the register, so William may be in full or abbreviated to Willm, Wm
Title – Sir, Lord, Capt, Rt Hon, Rev, etc. Mr and Esquire are not shown
Place – As given – some entries refer to a town or village, others give a full address. If a street name is shown in the index, then the place is probably in the Middlesex or Surrey area of London.
County – The 'Chapman' County Codes are used for counties in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. LND refers to the City of London.
Date of event
Event / Role – Generally, these are self-explanatory, but for some an explanation is given below to aid understanding of the index.
Column entry information
Death – Death or burial with dates. Most entries will include an address.
Marriage – Date, with addresses of bride before and after
Change of name – By Deed Poll or by means of advertisement in the London Gazette. Both names given and indexed. Most entries will include an address.
Exec – This may be an Executor, Administrator, or Legatee. In some cases a relationship to the deceased is given. The date given is that of probate or administration. Some entries will include an address.
Reg’r / Clergy – This is used where it is not clear from the original book whether the individual was a civil registrar or a clergyman. A few of these entries will include addresses.
Recipient – This is the person to whom the documents were sent by the Railway Company. In some cases, an individual has signed for the receipt of the documents, and their signature appears in the volume; however, some signatures are unclear and have not been included in the index. Half the entries will include addresses.
Declaration – These are the names of people who have made a declaration that, for example, John Smith is the same person as John Arthur Smith. The date given is the date on which the declaration was made.
Joint holder – These are people who held shares in partnership. Most entries will include an address.
Fol – Some early volumes do not have printed folio numbers on the top left and right corners, but number have been assigned.
Entry – From volume 1 to 24, a single set of numbers was used, but thereafter each volume has its own series starting at 1. Where numbers are duplicated, these are differentiated by a suffix e.g. 349/1, 349.2. Where the original has a suffix this is in the form of a letter e.g. 350.a.
Col – The column number has ben inserted as a guide to locating the name quickly when searching the books.
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.
This is not an index of railway staff, but of shareholders in the railway. The Society of Genealogists produced its Great Western Railway (GWR) Shareholders Index from ledgers created by the Great Western Railway that are now in the Society’s possession. The GWR’s original ledgers were compiled by the company for transactions relating to all shareholdings that 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). You can learn more about the Society of Genealogists by following the link found in the Useful Links & Resources section.
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.
You can learn more about the GWR by following the link to the Great Western Archive found in the Useful Links & Resources section.
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 to 20 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. In this instance, disposition refers to what happened to those evidentiary documents presented to the Railway (to whom, where and when they were returned after use).
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:
Power of Attorney 0.8%
Change of Name 0.8%
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:
England & Wales 93.6%
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.