Family History

A Checklist for Researchers

Researching canal family history is a growing pastime. Although we can’t assist with individual searches, we have put together the following information to help you with your search

If you know the name of the person or boat:

If you know the location/name of the canal

If you know the company/type of boat:

Census data:

This will show what boat a person was on. It is quite sketchy for C19th, and much more complete for C20th. The language used to describe the jobs, etc. of canal workers can be misleading as those taking the censuses were not always sure of the right terminology. (Note: this is true of any data which does not come from a canal source.)

Sources containing a variety of information

The Waterways Archive

The Waterways Archive (administered by The Waterways Trust) has records of boat owners and registered boatmen, some toll records (which allows you to associate a person with a boat), archives of large carrying companies, gauging tables (kept by each Navigation Company - showed details of a boat’s carrying capacity, and usually contains the owners name and address). The majority of the material is located at Gloucester. The archive is distributed among:

Virtual Waterways Archive Catalogue

A combined on-line index to a range of archive collections around the country including some of the most major archives. It holds information on over 70,000 records all over the country. Look at the Virtual Waterways Archive Catalogue for more information.

The National Archives, Kew

The National Archives (Formerly The Public Record Office) repository includes maps, administrative records, plans, photographs and canal company minutes (some of it part of the Waterways Trust archive). For example it has:

It has an online catalogue (PROCAT), which allows you to find out what documents the PRO holds - it can be browsed by class and searched by keyword or phrase, and documents can be ordered in advance.

(Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey. TW9 4DU; Telephone +44 20 8876 3444

National Register of Archives

The National Register of Archives (NRA), part of the Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC), has online indexes which can be searched by corporate name, personal name, family name and place name. You can find out where the collections are held and whether the NRA holds paper catalogues for them.

Useful Websites

Jim Shead's website offers a compilation of information from various sources

Spellweaver Offers a range of useful information and newspaper cuttings for those researching their canal ancestors.

If you’re not sure where to start


We cannot help you reasearch individuals but if you have general questions about canals which might help you, we will try to answer them. Our field is London canals, and although we know something about waterways in the rest of the UK we don't cover the river Thames. If you have a question for us which is not answered on this website please use our feedback form.