Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Resource for Researching British Coalmining Ancestors

If you have British ancestors who were coal miners you might find Brian Elliott's Tracing Your Coalmining Ancestors:  A Guide for Family Historians a helpful resource.  It appeared in search results when I was seeking information about my British coalmining ancestor William Doyle.  Although only part of the book is available for viewing at Google Books there is enough to know that it is a goldmine of resources.

The first chapter focuses on the life and work of a coal miner including various jobs he may have done.  There are also sections on home and bathing (certainly a necessity after being exposed to coal and coal dust all day); disasters, accidents, and disease; rights, strikes, and associations; women and child miners (I was not aware that women worked in and/or for the mines.); and more.  The final chapters give both regional and national coal mining sources for Scotland, England, and Wales.

There is a glossary of coal mining terms.  I learned that though we may use the terms collier, coalminer, and pitman interchangeably they are not the same and have different responsibilities.  I also learned the meaning of the terms afterdamp, blackdamp/chokedamp, and firedamp -- none of them good.  When your ancestor worked in a coal mine, all things mining become interesting.

There are a good number of photographs which help the reader envision the setting, clothing, etc. of his/her own ancestor.   Interspersed through the pages are excerpts of interviews conducted with miners.  The author mentioned that mining is often an intergenerational occupation:  father, son, grandson, one follows the other into the mines, a fact that may help when searching for the next older generation.  There are many suggestions for places to research an ancestor, ones that I would not have known had I not read the pages of this book. 

I especially liked this description (on p. 3) of coal miners.
Unfortunately, coalminers are often portrayed in stereotypical extremis, banded together as militant agitators or habitual drunkards, even as a "special breed"....  In reality–and this is where good family history research is so important–miners lived in communities where the pit, family, sport and leisure, politics and even religion combined and interacted in many positive ways; and especially manifested in deep friendships and an unspoken camaraderie engendered by the ever-present shared dangers of the job...."

Even reading only the limited number of pages of this book available online, I can see its helpfulness in learning about how miners and their families lived and as an aid for tracing my coalmining ancestors.  I hope to purchase a copy soon.


Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. This is an excellent review filled with so much detail that I would check Amazon right away if I had coal mining ancestors.

    1. Thanks, Wendy. I hope to order the book soon.


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