Finding your family in our company records

We’ve had a flurry of communication from family historians this year in the archive. It seems that 5.2 million of you tuned in to watch the ever-lovely Una Stubbs on the BBC history show Who Do You Think You Are?

Una traced her family back to York where her father’s family had all worked for Rowntree’s. Una visited our confectionery factory in York (which has been owned by Nestlé since 1988) and the Borthwick Institute Archives at York University where most of our Rowntree’s papers are kept. It was great to have Una back to visit us, not just because she’s such a nice person, but also because Una was the face of Dairy Box in the 1950s and we’re all huge fans of her work.

1920s: Arthur Stubbs poses for the Cocoa Works Magazine

Una was lucky because she had a few people to help her with her research, but what if you think that your family members worked for one of our factories and want to track down records for them? Your search methods will have to differ depending on which factory they worked for. We don’t keep personnel records for any of our old employees (except a handful of records relating to York employees that started in the 1890s, but these aren’t currently available for research) but there are some other records that you might try.

If your ancestor worked for Nestlé UK then there are fewer materials to help you because our Nestlé UK archive isn't open to the public. However, some local history societies, like the excellent local society in Hatton (near our Tutbury factory) are often able to supply information. And if you believe that your relative worked for our Crosse & Blackwell you might try the London Metropolitan Archives who keep some records relating to the company’s operations, although don’t expect references to individual employees. 

1910s: A rare photograph of the Nestlé UK factory in Tutbury

If your ancestor worked for either Rowntree’s or Mackintosh’s then a visit to the Borthwick Institute Archives (see this earlier post on where we keep our archives for more details) in York might help you in your research. The in-house magazine for Mackintosh’s employees (the MacCaley News) was started in 1949 and includes everything from reports on visiting celebrities to the winners of the staff swimming gala. The Borthwick have a complete collection of the magazine in their reading room, which is open to researchers (although it’s best to book an appointment).

The Rowntree’s equivalent is the Cocoa Works Magazine (also known as the CWM) which was launched in 1902, and ceased publication in 1971 after merging with the MacCaley News. The CWM was set up by Joseph Rowntree as a means of keeping up to date with his workforce. Joseph had got used to knowing every employee personally at his Tanners Moat factory, but as his staff began to run into their thousands it became easier to read about the activities of staff rather than catch up with each one individually in the dinner hour.

1921: A cover of the Cocoa Works Magazine

The Cocoa Work’s Magazine is a great history resource, brimming with employee’s stories and photographs. Helpfully for budding family historians the editors of the Cocoa Works Magazine got into the habit of publishing a list of births, marriages and deaths in each edition. Some early editions even include wedding photographs. And not just of York employees, but staff out in the distribution warehouses too.

1920s: Births, marriages and deaths in the Cocoa Works Magazine

Using the approximate date on the entry in the CWM, family history enthusiasts can then go and look up the exact date in the Birth, Marriage and Death Index in their local library. After that it's easy to send away for a birth marriage or death certificate at a local registry office or online. Birth, marriage and death certificates will often contain extra information that the CWM does not mention, like an extra address, or the names of witnesses. Occasionally the CWM will mention details of a funeral and give a brief biography of an employee that has passed away, but sadly, not in every case. Even so, it’s still worth looking through a few editions of the CWM after their passing just in case they do get a mention.

Another great way to find out more about relatives who worked at the Cocoa Works is to look for their sporting achievements. Employees who won anything from swimming galas to factory fishing competitions got a mention, along with congratulations for typing qualifications and exam results.

Sporting Fun: Employees sporting events often appear in the Cocoa Works Magazine

Unfortunately there is no index for these sorts of awards, and so amateur genealogists have to turn armature sleuths to track entries down. As any good Cocoa Nib knows, a wedding at the Cocoa Works meant the presentation of a Rowntree's Tea Service (often just referred to as 'The Firm's Gift'). But a set of china cups and saucers was not the only thing employees could be expected to take home with them, and a browse through one 1920s edition of the Cocoa Works Magazine shows an entire bureau and bookshelves. Leaving the Cocoa Works meant yet more gifts, and even more opportunities for the family history enthusiast. If you know when your relative left the Cocoa Works then it is well worth looking up the date in the CWM to see if the editors had anything to say about them – and don't forget to have a look in an edition or two after the event, as your relative may have sent a thank you letter in for publication afterwards.

1920s: Leaving gifts for a valued member of staff

By far and away the most interesting articles in the CWM are those really personal ones written by employees. Some employees wrote about their hobbies, others about the finer points of their day jobs, and those lucky enough to holiday abroad wrote about foreign lands. There are accounts from employees of explosions on boats, kidnap in Turkey and life in prisoner of war camps. A glance through the Cocoa Works Magazine can be great for a family history enthusiast.


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