Researching your ancestors' occupations

How to identify your ancestors' occupations and find more information their employment history.

Search the catalogue

Library catalogue

The State Library holds a rich collection of material relating to public transport including thousands of publications produced by the Victorian Railways.

Search the Library catalogue for books on the history of public transport in Victoria, on specific departments, government and company reports, railway lines and stations, journals, images and maps.

Or use the following subject headings to browse through relevant resources -

The following index may also be useful.

Public Record Office Victoria

Railway employment records 1855 - 2014

The Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) holds an extensive collection of records relating to people who worked on the railways. Records include staff registers, staff salary records, employee leave records, employee history cards, correspondence registers, name indexes to correspondence record, accreditation and licencing records.

Records were created by numerous transportation departments, including the Public Works Department, 1855-1987 (VA 669), Victorian Railways, 1883-1983 (VA 2876), Public Transport Corporation, 1989-2003 (VA 2984) and Department of Transport II, 2008-2013 (VA 4853).

Searching for records

  1. To find the records of an individual you first need to identify the branch where they worked. As employment records moved with the employee whenever they transferred from one branch to another, you may need to search across a number of branches.

    To find the branch try searching for a person's name in the Triennial lists of railway employees. These lists appeared in the Victorian Government Gazette from 1884-1929.
  2. Go to the PROV Railway and train employment, Various agencies, 1855-2014 website.
    As the search function of this index does not normally retrieve the names of individuals, try searching by place or branch, such as - Rolling stock, Traffic, Transportation, Way and Works, Commercial and Marketing, Refreshment Service, Trading and Catering,  Electrical Engineering Stores, Freight Services or Printing.
    Use quotation marks around keywords to search as an exact phrase, i.e. "electrical engineering".
  3. On the Results page you can filter your results by date, series or government department, by using the Filter results option which appears on the left hand side of the page,
  4. Records can be ordered and viewed in the PROV reading room.

Further information can be found on PROV's Railway and train employment, Various agencies, 1855-2014 website. 

 Group of railway staff with engine No. 32H28704/11

Newspaper articles

Newspaper articles can be an excellent source of information, and may include articles about promotions, retirements, transport accidents, social events and personal stories.

A range of Victorian newspapers from the years 1803-1954 are available on the Trove Digitised Newspaper database.

Try searching for the name of an individual or the place where they worked. Or try a combination of keywords i.e. McDonald engine-driver Traralgon.

Enclose a phrase in quotation marks i.e. "North Melbourne" or "Southern Aurora" to get the best results. You can further refine you results by selecting a date range, illustrated newspapers etc.


Presentations, Traralgon Record, 27 November 1908, p. 3.


If the newspaper isn't on Trove you may need to explore the collections held in the State Library's Newspapers & Family History Reading Rooms.

Newspaper databases

Our Library subscribes to a wide range of current and historic Australian and international newspapers databases. They are available in the Library and many can be accessed offsite by Victorian residents who are registered State Library members.

More information can be found in our Newspapers research guides.

Tram and bus employment

A number of different companies have operated tram and bus services in Victoria. The records for many, but not all, of  these companies can be found at the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV).

Records include staff registers, wage books and accreditation and  licencing records.

Records were created by many different departments including -

  • Ballarat Tramways, 1887-1934 (VA 747)
  • Hawthorn Tramways Trust, 1914-1920 (VA 2978)
  • Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board, 1919-1983 (VA 2694)
  • Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company Limited, 1877-1919 (VA 2976)
  • Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board, 1919-1983 (VA 2694)
  • North Melbourne Electric Tramways and Lighting Company records (VA 2974)
  • Tramway Board, 1916-1919 (VA 2693)
  • Public Transport Corporation, 1989-2003 (VA 2984)

Records may include employee registers and history cards, wages or earnings books and accreditation or licencing records.

To identify collections held by PROV, go to their Tram and bus employment website and enter a date range. This will retrieve a list of relevant records for that period. Browse through the results until you find the relevant collection - which you can then order and view at PROV.

Information on other records relating to trams and buses can be found on the PROV Trams and buses - general search website.

Neva Ferguson, Bus conductor. H2001.16

Triennial lists of railway employees, 1884 - 1929


Year Vol Page
Year Vol. Page
1884 1 1459 1908 2 2333
1887 2 2055 1911 2 4457
1890 1 1237 1914 2 3267
1893 1 387 1918 1 887
1896 1 621 1921 1 1189
1899 1 433 1924 1 1167
1902 3 4099 1926 1 1233
1905 3 4719 1929 2 1931

Text searchable PDF copies of these lists can be downloaded from the Victorian Association of Family History Organisations (VAFHO) website.

Victorian Railway History Library

The Prahran Mechanics Institute (PMI) holds the records of the Victorian Railway History Library (formerly known as the ARHS). In this collection you can research Victorian and Australian railway history and access an extensive collection of railway journals. 
More information can be found on the PMI website.


Information on the Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and its predecessors can be found on the Australian Trade Union Archives. Records are housed in the University of Melbourne Archives. Please contact the Archives regarding access to this collection. 

Photo of men and women standing in front of the Railway Union building

Group photographs of men and women gathered in front of Victorian Railways Union building. H2011.20/80