After my last blog I revisited my notes and past research on directories as it had rekindled my interest in this sometimes overlooked resource.
The earliest trade directories date back to the mid 17th century and started just in London only. By the 19th century they reached their peak whereby annual directories covering most counties were produced by the likes of the Post Office, Pigots, Kelly and White, amongst others.
For some specialist trades there were specific directories or compilations which can make searching that much easier. One good example of this is the extract of photographers taken from Slater’s 1868 directory – http://www.rogerco.freeserve.co.uk/victoria.htm
Even if your ancestors were not candlesmiths or drapers, these directories can provide useful information that goes beyond the commercial adverts. The content varies, but typically they contain descriptions of cities, parishes, towns and villages. These may include geographical, historical and statistical details. They also can contain information about local facilities, institutions and associations which might prove a useful starting point for researching craftmen or professionals.
In addition to the paid-for adverts of traders, trades and professions they often include listings for private residents too which can help to place people’s location between census’ which can narrow down where to look for parish records, for example.
Large collections of directories can be found at the Guildhall Library, London, and the Society of Genealogists. A catalogue of the latter has been printed as Directories and Poll Books in the Library of the Society of Genealogists (6th ed. 1995) [FHL book 942.1/L1 D23so]. There is also a fine series of London directories on microfilm at the London Metropolitan Archives.
For further reading on the matter you might like to consult Jane Elizabeth Norton’s Guide to the National and Provincial Directories of England and Wales, excluding London, published before 1856 (Royal Historical Society, 1950) [FHL book 942 C4rg].
My final thoughts on this topic is not to forget the newspapers. Adverts were placed by tradesmen in their local paper, much as some do today. These can be found on FindMyPast, Ancestry or The British Newspaper Archive at http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ In the case of the latter of these resources you can narrow down the search criteria by several terms including specifying you are interested adverts.
Hope you found this of use…happy hunting!