Banking ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2009

Exploring the lives of your banking ancestors – through economic expansion and recession – can also reveal a great deal about the society in which they lived, as Jenny Thomas explains.

Since the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694, founded primarily to pay for war in France, banks have been springing up, amalgamating and declining all over the country.

Although London was the initial focus, the idea quickly spread. Fuelled by the Industrial Revolution, the numbers of banks outside London leaped from fewer than 120 in 1784 to over 800 in 1810. Once institutions for a fortunate few, they gradually developed into an everyday feature of all of our lives.

Those of us with ancestors who worked in and ran these banks have a voyage of discovery ahead of us, not only to uncover what our particular ancestor was doing, but how the banking world was growing and developing around them, how government regulations were imposed and how the modern banking system came to be.

The nature, quality and quantity of records that may survive about our banking ancestors vary widely from bank to bank, the time period in which you are interested and the position your ancestor enjoyed within the bank. But it is definitely worth having a look at the records, and you may be surprised at the level of detail that you are able to uncover.

Photo © Hulton Archive Getty Images

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