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  Issue No 60 Official Organ of LaborNet 30 June 2000  




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Unions and Family Trees

By Lyn Vincent

Trade union records may not be the first port of call for a beginning family historian, but down the track a little, these records could bring to life an ancestor who previously was just a name printed on the page.


For those whose ancestors came from a working class background rather than a professional one, it could be another avenue of information down the research path. Although trade union records have not been widely utilised as a source for genealogy they could well be an alternative or adjunct to other conventional sources when trying to discover the social, political and economic character of an ancestor. An insight into the lifestyle of an ancestor can be gained by using trade union records, while at the same time they can at times, confirm residence and work addresses, as well as other significant events in an ancestor's life. In essence if an ancestor was found to be working as a tradesman, then trade union records may well be a path to follow.

The main focus on accessing trade union records as a genealogical source was Sydney, New South Wales (N.S.W.) but attempts have been made to find the availability of these records in other states. Appendix B gives details of addresses, telephone numbers and opening hours of relevant repositories. The aim of this work is to detail what records are available in Australia, where and what they contain and their accessablity. A small case study of records will show what kind of information can be expected to be found from trade union records for the genealogist in Sydney, N.S.W. In other states the information may differ but the belief of the author is that the use of trade union records as a tool for family history will be a rewarding experience.

Trade union records are available in various locations in most capital cities of Australia and Appendix B of this work will attempt to describe known locations and how they can be accessed and what conditions apply to accession of their records. Trade Union records sometimes hold sensitive information and with this in mind it should be understood that they are sometimes not as easy to access as other genealogical sources but take heart, with the right approaches most of these difficulties can be overcome.

Although The University of Sydney does not hold any archival trade union records the Department of Industrial Relations at Sydney University has been successful in obtaining a grant of $11,000 from the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning. This grant will be used by Dr. Taksa and Associate Professor Irving members of The Labour Heritage Network at The University of Sydney to compile a Labour Heritage Register for New South Wales. This register is not available for perusal at this time but is worthy of note for future use. The Department of Industrial Relations at The University of Sydney also produce a journal called Labour History. This journal is produced every six months under the ausipices of the Labour History Research Group and could prove to be a valuable resource.

The Mitchell Library in the State Library of New South Wales holds a large variety of trade union records relating not only to N.S.W. but other states and some overseas information. The earliest records held are of a craft union, The Sydney Progressive Society of Carpenters and Joiners with their records dating from 1853. The collection includes minute books, records of strikes, merges between unions and members recruitment. One of the holdings I was particulary interested in, the Boilermakers' and Blacksmiths' Society of Australia from 1876 until 1979 merged with the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union and later with the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union. There are records pertaining to the Combined Rail Union 1936-1967 and the Eveleigh Carriage Works Shops Committee records 1936-1957 which would could prove valuable to my own family history and the small case later on this work.

The variety of unions represented in The Mitchell Library's collection are wide and include hospital and laboratory workers, metal workers, leather workers, builders labourers, clerks, ironworkers, ship workers, miners, sewerage workers, milk and ice carters, sail makers (another area of interest to the author), public servants, sugar workers, shop assistants and many more.

The Labour Council of New South Wales holds some archival records, which basically date from the 1980s, but in general records previous to this from 1892 -1982 are kept in the Mitchell Library and form a valuable historic record of trade unions in New South Wales. Enquiries made to the Labour Council of New South Wales indicated that any records they currently hold are not perceived to be of interest to genealogists.

The Mitchell Library also holds records of the Melbourne Trades Hall 1948-1915 which includes rough minute books, rule books of Victorian trade unions, records of the Eight Hours Movement and the papers of Trades Hall secretary W.E. Murphy.

Enquiries to the A.C.T.U in Canberra revealed that even though they do hold some old records, the laws of confidentiality apply and these records unfortunately can not accessed by genealogists.

The Noel Butlin Archives Centre, which is part of the Australian National University has an extensive collection of major (national and state) trade unions, including many membership records. The collection in this repository is very large and is comprehensively listed in their List of Holdings, which they will post to you free of charge. Access to material is gained with permission of the depositor and photocopying facilities are available at the discretion of the librarian.

The National Library of Australia in Canberra does hold some trade union records but because of a standing agreement, most trade union records in Canberra are held with the aforementioned Noel Butlin Archives at the National University Library. It would seem prudent, however, to explore the records in the National Library, as they seem to contain a great deal of personal information, such as union membership tickets, submissions, minutes, correspondence and address books of individual unions, newspaper clippings, notes and reminiscences of individuals who were active in the labour movement. Also available are a number of oral history and pictorial records pertaining to trade unions. The trade union records are housed in special reading rooms and some restrictions such as permission from trade union leaders are placed on access of material.

The Australian Archives hold some trade union records dating from Federation in most states. There is an Australian Archives Office in the capital city of each state, with the records reflecting the state where they are held. It is not possible to transfer records from one state office to another, making it necessary to visit each office in person or make a written request for information. A small cost will be charged for photocopying. Most of the trade union records held in the Australian Archives were created by a trade union coming into contact with the Commonwealth Government of Australia, such as Royal Commissions, Basic Wage cases etc. rather than records created by trade unions themselves. They have records created by the Australian Investigation Security Office (ASIO) about various trade unions and their more prominent officials. These records do have restrictions placed upon them, e.g. any material less than 30 years old and matters relating to personal privacy, defence, national security and international relations.

The Latrobe Library, State Library of Victoria holds trade union records in their Australian Manuscripts collection as well as in the Merrifield Collection. Access to the material held in these collections is somewhat limited for the budding genealogist. Briefly the policy on access is confined to:

'donors and their families or close associates, postgraduate students, undergraduate students at honours level and other researchers and members of the public who may reasonably expect to find information which is of use to them and which is not available elsewhere'.

Access to fragile or vulnerable material will be denied but the library is willing to negotiate the production of copies. The Riley and Ephemera Collection (housed in the Secure Reading Rooms) are however, much more accessible, being available to all members of the public. This collection includes leaflets, handouts, posters, stickers and badges of many arenas, trade unions being one of them. Gaining copies from this collection can usually be arranged by the area librarian on duty. Some trades represented in these holdings are telecommunication workers, engine drivers, brick and tile workers, tramway employees and plumbers. Trades Hall and related bodies and the Australian Labor Party and associated bodies also have a good representation.

The Museum of Victoria has a trade union collection consisting of banners, badges, ribbons, posters, leaflets and other ephemeral material relating to the work of trade unions in Victoria. The collection covers health and safety, political developments and changes in working conditions. Although there may be no reference to particular people, this resource could give a valuable insight into the working life of a trade union ancestor.

The State Library of Queensland holds original records of various trade unions and associations and are to be found in the John Oxley Library. Some of these collections are on open access and others are restricted to researchers who have obtained written permission from the donor to access the material. Photocopying of material held by the Archives and Manuscripts Unit is not usually permitted. These records cover such things as rules and regulations, constitutions, minutes and ledgers. It is possible that membership records are contained in unprocessed material and as the public do not normally have access, the chances of viewing this material are slim. The library has a printed collection of 214 items related directly to trade unionism, ranging from historical and sociological studies of trade unions to periodicals issued by trade unions and newspapers such as The Worker. These items are accessible to the public. There are no costs involved in viewing available information but a charge will be made for any copying that needs to be done. These records are not available on interlibrary loan and so it would therefore be necessary to visit the library in person or write requesting information.

The Flinders University Library of South Australia does not, strictly speaking, hold any trade union records, but they do have the personal papers of Doctor Evatt. Among these papers is a history of the Evatt family compiled by a family member in the earlier part of this century and the source material for a book that Dr. Evatt was to write about Bertha MacNamara, one of the founders of the Australia Labor Party.

The Archives of Tasmania holds trade union records of a number of trades. The Australian Bank Officials' Association (Tasmanian State Branch) has various records dating from 2 April 1936 until 1970. Some of these records include membership, awards, salaries and minutes of meetings. The Federated Confectioners' Association of Australia (Tasmanian Branch) has records in this repository but access is restricted to the Union Secretary and/or persons with his/her written authority. These records contain minutes of meetings, ballot papers, cashbooks and membership cards for male and females and are dated from 1958 until 1970. The Australasian Society of Engineers also has records, which are accessible at the discretion of the State Archivist who must then notify the Society. These records contain minutes and correspondence and date from 1968 until 1970. The Batt Papers contain reports, lists of secretaries of branches and affiliated unions, minutes of meetings of various unions and papers relating to, among others, the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign and is accessible at the discretion of the State Archivist. The records of the Federated Municipal and Shire Council Employees Union (Launceston Branch) has minutes of meetings in these archives. Access is allowed only with the written permission of the Union Secretary. The Tasmanian Trades and Labour Council's minutes of meetings dating from 1917 to 1971 are accessible to bona fide scholars and others who obtain permission from the Tasmanian Trades and Labour Council. Records of the Tasmanian Branch of the Operative Painters' and Decorators' Union of Australia contain minutes of meetings, newspaper cuttings and miscellaneous papers. Access is available to records less than 25 years old with recent records being only accessed with written authorisation. There is no cost to carry out research in this repository except photocopying and microfilm printouts.

The Battye Library of West Australian History, which is part of the Library and Information Service of Western Australia has a reasonably large collection of trade union records. The viewing of some these records, however, is subject to firstly gaining permission from the relevant trade union. It will also be necessary to register with the library and be issued with a Researchers' Ticket.

Some of the unions represented in this collection are: Engineering, Tramway and Motor Omnibus, Railway, Banks, Breweries, Carpenters and Joiners, Waterside Workers, Miners, Boilermakers, Engine Drivers, Maritime Workers, Building Workers, Printing, Teachers, Municipal, Hairdressers and Sail and Tent Makers and many others making this a valuable repository for trade union research. It is important to know that retrievals in the West Australia State Archives only occur three times a day, at 9.30am, 11.30am and 2.00pm Monday to Friday but after retrieval the records can be used in the Battye Library after the Archives has closed. Permission to photocopy any archival records must be sought from a staff member.

Another avenue of trade union records can be found in personal collections such as documents, papers and diaries kept by trade unionists. In the case of the author, her father Ainslie George Manning had kept a log of incidents books, subscription books and other paraphernalia relating to his time as a delegate of the Boilermakers' and Blacksmiths' Society.


To demonstrate the value of using trade union records in family history research, a small case study was carried out on my father Ainslie George Manning who worked for the New South Wales Railways at the Eveleigh Carriage Workshops from 1942-1961 and was a known active member of the Boilermakers' and Blacksmiths' Society.

In the case of the Boilermakers' and Blacksmiths' Society records there were the usual 35 year restrictions placed on accessing records (ie. at the time of writing anything after 1963). Written permission from the Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union was needed to gain access to these later records. It was found that even though this search would not go beyond 1961 it would still be necessary to gain permission from the Union as older records were at times mixed with more recent material.

After searching through one volume of minutes it became evident that there was a Redfern Branch as well as a Sydney Branch of the Boilermakers' and Blacksmiths' Society. As Ainslie George Manning worked at Eveleigh Carriage Works, Redfern it was clear that the Redfern Branch records were the relevant ones to search. However, the searching of this first volume of the Sydney branch was not in vain. In fact it was most interesting to find mentioned a Brother. John. A. Nicholson for two reasons. Firstly one of Ainslie George Manning's paternal grandmothers was a Nicholson hinting at a possible connection and secondly the nature of the entry was most intriguing.

"From Bro. Jn. A. Nicholson forwarding his resignation as a member and giving 3 months notice. Decided owing to the peculiar reasons surrounding his decision to resign on religious grounds it was accepted..."

This item certainly whets the appetite to research both the relationship and the incident, but it will have to wait for another time.

The first evidence found of Ainslie George Manning in the Boilermakers' and Blacksmiths' Society, was found in the minutes of the Executive Meeting of the Redfern Branch of the Boilermaker's and Blacksmiths' Society of Australia on 6 March 1944 when Brother Manning personally delivered a letter to the Secretary of the Branch in which members employed at Eveleigh Carriage Works rejected the decision of the Reference Board on the question of grinding, and requested a Special Summons Meeting of the Board "to discuss this contentious matter immediately". Because the summons sheet was already out for the next meeting it was not possible to accommodate them but an invitation was given to Brother Manning and his board to come before the Executive at the next meeting when this correspondence would be handled. This matter of grinding had been mentioned in previous minutes where a demarcation had occurred at Eveleigh Carriage Works between boilermakers and grinders. The matter appeared to have been resolved in November 1943 but its re-emergence in March 1944 clearly indicated this was not so. These two incidents can also be tied into a personal diary kept by Ainslie George Manning where he quotes "on 14/2/1944 3.30 Interviewed Robinson re grinding" and again on

"18/2/1944 ... a second class grinder was told to do the job. Protest was dismissed and Smith stated he would not vary from the decision of Reference Board - a template boilermakers ... and all other grinding 2nd class grinders".

At another Executive Meeting in 1944 where Ainslie George Manning was present there was talk of timing of jobs in the boilermaker's area at Eveleigh and the meeting agreed to remind the appropriate body of a promise they had made re timing. Also mentioned at this same meeting was a Brother Rostron. Rostron was another family name associated with Ainslie George Manning, therein the interest. Brother Rostron was mentioned in earlier minutes as having made a claim for five days compensation. The meeting agreed to meet the costs if the Commissioner of Railways refused to compensate. Compensation was granted to Brother R. Rostron under Section 100B. It seems ironic that Ainslie George Manning was working with men who were possibly related to him but to which he was oblivious at the time.

Interestingly it was discovered in the minutes of 6 January 1947 that Ainslie George Manning's father had died. In these minutes it was recorded that a telegram was received from Brother Manning apologising for his non-attendance at this meeting because of his father's death. Ainslie's father died on 23 December 1946.

Ainslie George Manning had always spoken of the fact that he had worked with the ex-Prime Minister Paul Keating's father and evidence was found of this in a list of members who were financial and possibly paying into a mortality fund. In 1955 Keating, M. was a financial member of the Boilermaker's and Blacksmith's Society and was paying a mortality payment of 6/- per annum. Manning, A.G. was a financial member but paying no mortality payment.

A good deal of information was found on the working life of Ainslie George Manning in the exercise of this limited search. He was diligent in pursuing unfair work practices and better working conditions. He was involved in quite a few demarcation disputes and was involved in a sub-committee to confer with officers of the Railways Department who supervised all matters related to apprentice training. It is interesting to note that in his later working life Ainslie Manning became a Safety Officer with the Railways, training others in safe work practices.

In conclusion it can be seen that trade union records are a worthwhile and viable source to be considered for family history purposes. Given the nature of being a trade unionist, it may be that you find some controversial information but this can be an added dimension to the individual being researched. The membership records viewed in this study did not reveal any personal details such as addresses or ages but this should not be a deterrent , because it appears that information varies in other trade union. The use of trade union records is not necessarily an easy path to follow because permission from the relevant entities is often necessary, but the reward is that your working class ancestor takes on a definite character and can suddenly come to life as you discover the personality, political persuasions and economic status of your ancestor.

The following information has been provided by Lyn Vincent, who graduated from The University of New England in 1996 with an Associate Diploma in Local and Family History. She has now retired from the work force and spends a lot of her free time working on what she calls her 'addictive hobby' of family history. I was put onto Lyn through one of her relatives who also does a lot of family history. Lyn and her cousin Suzanne Manning had many relatives who worked at the Eveleigh railway workshops. Lyn provided me with details about her father who was a union activist and Eveleigh employee. Below is her father's biographical profile and also information on using trade union records as a genealogical tool, which Lyn has compiled. This and other information can be found on her web page:


*    Contact History Editor Dr Lucy Taksa

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 60 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Turning Tides
ACTU President Sharan Burrow reflects on the disappearance of the middle class and what the union movement can do about it
*  Unions: Fear and Loathing in Wollongong
For four days this week, too much unionism was barely enough. We bring you the highs and lows from behind the scenes and inside the bars of this week’s ACTU Congress.
*  Politics: The Group Hug
Opposition leader Kim Beazley came, saw and conga-ed. Here's what he said to the ACTU Congress.
*  History: Unions and Family Trees
Trade union records may not be the first port of call for a beginning family historian, but down the track a little, these records could bring to life an ancestor who previously was just a name printed on the page.
*  International: Fiji Bans Lifted
Fiji employers are expected to start reinstating all their workers over the next week, now that Australian union bans have been lifted at the request of the local union leadership.
*  Review: Room to Manoeuvre
Full employment with a highly skilled well-paid workforce is a realistic goal for Australia, despite the supposed constraints of globalisation.
*  Satire: Satan Subpoenaed To Cricket Inquiry
The King Commission of Inquiry into cricket match-fixing yesterday heard evidence from Satan that he never influenced Hansie Cronje to accept bribes.

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