With researching our family history becoming an increasingly popular pastime, Stephanie describes how the archives at Kew could help you to delve into the lives of your ancestors.
Hello, I’m Stephanie, the new Archives Graduate Trainee at Kew. I’ve been working here for about a month now, and one of the most interesting aspects of my job so far has been helping people to research their family history.
Resources for family history research at Kew
Kew’s archive holds a number of resources which the archives team are able to use when dealing with enquiries into family history. Such enquiries usually come from people whose ancestors once worked at Kew. We have records relating to employees at all levels – not just the Directors and famous botanists, but also records of student gardeners, Herbarium staff and members of the Constabulary. Unfortunately we have no staff records for the royal period in Kew’s past, so we can only offer help if the ancestor worked at Kew from the 1840s onwards.
Members of the Kew Guild 1884, a Society that still exists for Kew staff today
We hold a number of useful staff records from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including staff lists from 1883-1993, which make it possible to track an individual’s progress throughout their time at Kew, for example by indicating that they were promoted to a new position. We also have military records, which list the men and women who were called up for service in both World Wars, giving details of what they did and where they were stationed. For certain individuals we may still have their staff files, which often include a copy of their job application, and it’s even possible that we may hold a photograph of a previous employee.
John Smith’s Record Book
One of the earliest and most interesting items used for family history research at Kew is John Smith’s Record Book. This book was compiled by John Smith (1798-1888), Curator of Kew, and lists the names of Kew employees from the 1840s to the 1860s. What is most remarkable about this book is the wonderful selection of comments (not always complimentary!) which Smith provides about many of the individuals listed, which really gives a personal insight into both John Smith and the individuals concerned. To take an example, Smith stated of a certain William Robertson that he was “An excellent man”, going on to say “It is a pity we cannot keep such a man” (p. 208).
The story of George Smith unfolds in John Smith's Record Book
Included in John Smith’s record book is the lamentable tale of George Smith, a Kew gardener apparently wrongly dismissed for stealing plant cuttings, a crime which Princess Mary of Cambridge is said to have later admitted to once she heard that George Smith had lost his position. George Smith was fortunately offered his job back. Sadly, a number of men who signed a “threatening letter” demanding that George be reinstated lost their jobs permanently.
If you believe a relative of yours may have worked at or corresponded with Kew, then do get in touch! If you provide us with their full name and the rough dates they would have been employed at Kew, as well as any further information if you have it, we can let you know if we hold any relevant records. Who knows what you might discover about your ancestors?
- Steph -
- Contact the archives team
- Find out about other collections in Kew’s archives
- Resources at The National Archives – a good place to start if you’re researching your family history
- The Society of Genealogists can offer advice on researching your family tree
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