Find your union

This guide was last updated in 2010

By 1900, just one worker in ten was a union member, and though the number rose to four in ten by the end of the first world war, membership only became a majority pursuit for a few years at the end of the 1970s.

If your ancestor was involved in a strike, they would almost certainly have been a member of the relevant union for their trade. Unless you have evidence about which union that was – a membership card or badge, for example – tracking down the right one can be frustratingly hard.

Visit the Trade Union Ancestors website. This lists more than 5,000 unions. Identify and write down all likely unions, including variations in your ancestor’s trade – bootmakers might be in a shoemakers’, cordwainers’ or leatherworkers’ union.

Now go to the Historical Directory of Trade Unions (published by Gower in five volumes and available at most reference libraries). This will help you establish which of these unions existed at the time and may give an idea of the localities in which it operated. You should now be able to focus on just one or two unions.

Striking ancestors
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Member records
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