Family history records at the IET Archives

A guide written to identify the relevant source material held at the IET Archives for family historians to help with their research. 

The electrical engineer

The term 'electrical engineer' came in to existence in the nineteenth century when the use of electricity in the telegraph industry, and later in power supply and electric lighting, led to a rapid growth in electrical engineering and the emergence of the 'electrical engineer.' The Society of Telegraph Engineers was formed to meet this demand in new engineers. To find out more about this history of The IET and its predecessors please read the IET History First page from Minutes of the Council of the Society of Telegraph Engineers, 1871

How do I know if my relative was a member? 

Engineers were able to call themselves civil, mechanical or electrical engineers without being a member of the relevant institution. Engineers who were a member of an institution were entitled to use certain post nominals indicating whether they were a Member, Associate Member, Associate, Graduate, Student, Fellow, Honorary Member or Companion of an engineering institution. For most of the twentieth century the use of the term ‘chartered engineer’ indicated membership, though in recent years this has changed. 

If you want to know if a person was a past member of the Institution look for the use of MIEE (IEE Member), AMIEE (Associate Member), or FIEE (IEE Fellow) after their name. They may also have been a Student or Graduate Member or an Associate or Companion. Modern membership grades are Member, Fellow and Student Member, but classes and names have changed over time. 

What records are useful for tracing my family history? 

The amount of information held on individual members depends on the member and how much they were involved in the Institution. We have information on eminent engineers who left their archives to the Institution and on those who were involved in major engineering developments. 

A simple search for an individual can be conducted on your behalf by a member of the Archives team in the membership lists, Blue Books (trade directories), obituaries and biographies. Please contact us for more information. 

A description of the records that are useful for family history research are listed below: 

Membership records

Prospective members had to submit evidence of their qualifications before being granted membership.  The forms contain information on the applicant such as education and employment history. There may also be a note from a proposer. This is not a comprehensive collection as the IET Archives only holds the detailed application forms for the period 1871-1901. 

In addition to the application forms the IET Archives holds the printed membership lists of all members of the Institution from 1871-1997. Typically, lists will give names, addresses and category of membership. They do not contain as much information as the membership application forms but we can confirm membership to the Institution and trace geographical or employment movements over the years.  Dance card given to attendees at the Electrical Engineers' Ball, 1922

Trade Directories

The IET Archives has a set of the Blue Books which are a series of trade directories for electricians published from 1883. These contain information on electrical firms, advertisements and an alphabetical classified section on individuals. 

If you are searching for a person who was not a member of the Institution they may be listed here and their details of place of work and dates of employment can aid historical research. There are also a few articles on individual electricians. To see if a particular names appears in the Blue Books please check the Member Biographies section.  


Occasionally an obituary or biography may have been written about certain members and published in the Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (JIEE) or in the Blue Books directory.  Please see our Member Obituaries index or the Member Biographies sections to see if there is one written for the member you are researching. 

A member of the Archives team will be happy to look this up for you (charges will apply for copies made). 

Officers and Awards

Lists of past IET Presidents, Honorary Fellows, Faraday Medallists and Mountbatten Medallists can be found in the IET History section of the website. 


Education and Training

There were two main routes to engineering training: apprenticeships with individual engineers or engineering companies and training through the technical institutes and colleges.  Engineering degrees were not required for chartered membership until the 1950s. In electrical engineering, the main technical institutes were Faraday House (now defunct) and Finsbury Technical College (now part of City and Guilds).  Some records of both institutions are held in the IET Archives, but no comprehensive lists of graduates remain.

Photographs and films

Photographs of past Presidents and some group photographs are held.  The IET Archives also has photographs of Faraday Medallists, Honorary Fellows and notable engineers, along with a collection of films recorded by Honorary Fellows and Faraday Medallists. Please refer to the IET Archives online catalogue for more information. Society of Telegraph Engineers General Meeting 1888, where the decision


Personal and company records

Personal papers of some notable engineers and the records of engineering companies are held in the Archives collections.  These are too numerous to list but can be searched by personal name or company name on the IET Archives online catalogue.  


Roll of Honour

An index to members who fell in the First World War can be found by searching the IET WWI Roll of Honour. This is useful for family historians and those interested in military history. The volume contains information on the member, where they were stationed and how they died. For some entries an image is available. 

Other resources in the IET Archives

There is a limited amount of information in the IERE (Institution of Electronic and Radio Engineers) and the IMfgE (Institution of Manufacturing Engineers) archives. There are also indexes to papers in the Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and published biographies.