Documentary evidence

This guide was last updated in 2009

Using the information that you have from your family as a starting point, your next step is to gather as much information as you can from the basic genealogical documents at your disposal.

By following your ancestor through the censuses, or looking to see how they defined themselves on birth, marriage and death certificates, you should be able to establish a time frame for their employment in the docks. You might establish how old they were when they started or retired from the docks and how many generations of the family worked there.

Digging deeper into the documents, you can investigate what sort of living your ancestor was making; what kind of accommodation they and their family occupied, and whether everyone in the street or locality was employed in the same line of work. You might check your ancestor’s address against Booth’s Poverty Map, and establish from the census how crowded the family’s accommodation was.

You can also establish in what capacity your ancestor was working: they may be listed as a stevedore (someone who loads and unloads ships, usually with the help of a crane), a waterman (those who carried people in boats across the river) or lighterman (men who carried load on Lighters – small boats – between ships and quays). It is also possible that they were employed in the docklands police. You can find the basic genealogical documents, or indexes to them, at several websites, including:, and

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