As salesmen and product suppliers entered new British cities and towns in the 19th century, they needed to quickly locate potential customers. Thus, trade directories, stating addresses of persons along with their occupations, were born. Trade directories, similar to modern telephone directories, but lacking telephone numbers, have many applications in family history research. Until recently, they have been difficult for foreigners to access (with the exception of those living near Salt Lake City). A large number of historical trade directories are now available on-line, free to the public.
Value to Family History Research
Trade directories act in many ways as annual censuses. They don't provide as detailed information as the Victorian censuses; however, they usually state the following information: name, address, and occupation. They also often contain abbreviated histories of each community discussed. They may be arranged in three distinct ways. First, in alphabetical order, by surname, covering the entire urban area. Second, the most common occupations may be listed in alphabetical order, with workers associated with those occupations listed alphabetically under each category. Third, many trade directories are arranged by streets, identifying occupants of each residence or commercial zone, along each street.
Next, let us consider a few ways to extrapolate the information supplied in this record. The most valuable usage is to determine ancestral addresses. Why is determining a person's address the most important reason to use trade directories? - because knowing a person's address is crucial to quickly locating him or her on unindexed British censuses (i.e. 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871). If trade directories state where a person lived during years in close proximity to census years, then this information will lead you to use street indexes. Street indexes eliminate the dull process of searching each page household by household, which in a city with 100,000 inhabitants could take days!
Directories can help you discover the names of ancestors' neighbors, who may be relatives. They can be used to track migrations. Using them in conjunction with parish, civil, and census records, they can fill in details concerning ancestors' lives.
Finding Trade Directories Online
A large number of British, or more specifically, English and Welsh trade directories, can be found on-line at two Web sites: Historical Directories and Genuki. The first Web site, a creation of the University of Leicester, contains the largest collection. It surpasses Genuki in that it contains more directories and also scanned images of the actual directory pages. Genuki should not be neglected though, as it contains transcribed trade directories that have not been put on the Leicester site. Both Web sites have searching capabilities that speed up the process in comparison to reading the original unindexed versions. Visit these Web sites at www.historicaldirectories.org and www.genuki.org.uk. They are both non-profit sites.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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