Archives research guide: sources for family history

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

The IET was formed in 1871, as the Society of Telegraph Engineers, to promote the development of electrical engineering and to provide a place where electrical engineers could meet and exchange ideas.  Originally, most of its members were telegraph engineers, but it later broadened to cover power engineering and other emerging disciplines. 

In 1988, the Institution merged with the Institution of Electronic and Radio Engineers (IERE).  Three years later, it merged with the Institution of Manufacturing Engineers (IMfgE), formerly the Institution of Production Engineers (IProdE). 

Most recently, the Institution of Engineering and Technology was formed in 2006 by the joining together of the IEE (Institution of Electrical Engineers) and the IIE (Institution of Incorporated Engineers).

The Archives contains many sources for family historians. We have some information on our members, although the amount generally 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.  

We also have the records of societies or companies that include information on individuals.

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.

Membership lists

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 names.  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.

The Archives holds the original membership forms from 1871 up to 1901. These are indexed and can contain a wealth of information on individuals such as their educational and employment history that was submitted in support of their application.

For information on members post 1901 there are printed lists that detail their name and address and any other dates of interest, such as when they became members from associate member.

Trade directories

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

Obituaries and biographies

Occasionally an obituary or biography may have been written about certain members. Please see our Member Obituaries index on the Institution's History page or the Biographies section 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, please refer to the Archivist for details).


Papers of individual scientists are usually included in the Special Collections section of the Archives.  These are too numerous to list, but can be searched for by personal name. Some of the sources for family history research in the Archives' Collections include:

  • Silvanus P Thompson collection, 1825-1915 SC Mss 003
    This includes two albums of photographs, signatures and correspondence of famous scientists
  • Papers of John Joseph Fahie, 1863-1918 SC Mss 009
    Fahie researched the history of telegraphy and collected information on the major figures in the development of telegraphy.  This collection includes correspondence with scientists and their families and friends and documents Fahie's attempts to honour telegraphy's forgotten pioneers.
  • Photographs of eminent electrical engineers 1897 SC Mss 030
    Mounted photographs of electrical engineers, including municipal engineers.
  • Papers of the Women's Engineering Society NAEST 092
    Society established in 1919 to provide support for women working in engineering and to encourage women to take up an engineering career.  Famous members include Margaret Partridge, Amy Johnson and Dame Caroline Haslett (who was its first secretary).
  • Image collection
    Images of past Presidents, Honorary Fellows, Faraday Medallists and Institution members at events.

Keywords for searching the online catalogue

If you would like to search our online online for the names of individuals search under "Whole Archive" using the person's name as a keyword. Searching using just the surname will bring up most results. If you want to search under a full name, use the format Lastname Firstname(s) without punctuation, for example John Hopkinson would be Hopkinson John.

Other resources on this website

The Archives website also contains information on Honorary Fellows, Faraday Medallists and Past Presidents of the IEE, IERE and IProdE in the IET History section.
More information on individuals can be found in the Biographies and Featured Articles section.

Other resources in the Library and Archives

Membership information in the IERE and IProdE archives (incomplete series)
Index to papers in the Journal (reference books in the Library or via enquiry service)
Published biographies of engineers (see the online Library catalogue)