View Full Version : Using Trade Directories

01-10-2007, 9:30 PM
I love using Trade Directories! They are an invaluable source of information, particularly outside of census years. They have their limitations, but you can often find things through them that you can't find by any other means. I mainly use the ones for Liverpool, so I'll just refer to them, but you can get the directories for all over the country.
I'm lucky enough to live just 10mins walk from my local library which has a nearly complete set of original Liverpool directories from the first one in 1766 up until 1897. It then has a big gap until 1946, then odd ones up until 1974. If I need the missing years I have to go to Liverpool Central Library which has the lot on microfilm. I've also got an original copy of the 1940 Liverpool directory, which is on loan from my car-mechanic (he got it as part-payment for a job he did years ago!). There are sites where you can look at directories online. You can also buy copies on cd - see Parish Chest.

The full title for the 1940 Liverpool directory is "Kelly's (Gore's) Directory of Liverpool including Bootle, Birkenhead, Wallasey and Environs. The Contents page lists the following:
I. Advertisements
II. Alphabetical lists of streets
III. Street Directory
IV. Alphabetical list of names
V. Professions & Trades
VI. Annals and Official, comprising the following sections:
Annals of Liverpool
Official Directory
Councils of the City of Liverpool and the Boroughs of Birkenhead, Bootle and Wallasey, Bebington and Crosby
Ecclestiastical Directory
Educational Directory
Institutions and Associations

I'm off for a cup of tea now, so I'll expand on how the individual sections can be useful in a later posting.

02-10-2007, 10:46 AM
First of all, a little bit about what trade directories are. The earliest directory of Liverpool was mainly a list of the principal inhabitants of the town. It is a very slim booklet & isn't actually a "trade" directory - more a list of the male, upper middle classes (so none of my lot appear!). Later directories had sections listing trades in alphabetical order, like "Yellow Pages". Each trade section gave the name & address of the main tradespeople (eg, master carpenter, but no journeyman carpenter, so still none of mine). Also sections on clergy, officials, etc. There was also an alphabetical list of all those people listed in the book.
Later still, an alphabetical list of the main streets, showing who lived at each address & their occupation (still no sign of mine as they lived on a back street).
Only the head of the household is listed on the street index, usually male. Women were only listed if they were the head - ie widowed or single, or if they ran their own business.

Gore's were the first directories in Liverpool. They were published about every 2 years until late in the 19thC, when they came out every year. The 1940 directory is 4 inches thick.

The Liverpool directories from the mid 1850s cover a wide area. If you stick a pin in a map of Liverpool at the Pier Head on the River Mersey and draw a circle equal to 8 miles radius, then that about covers it. So most of the Wirral penisular is included.

Colin Moretti
02-10-2007, 6:20 PM
I heartily endorse Wirral's comments about the value of trade directories. They're not so comprehensive in rural areas but for larger villages and towns they always give an outline of the community, noting any special features and local occupations etc, so they're always useful for background information, often revealing surprising features.

Always bear in mind that the information is likely to be about a year or so old at the date of printing and it was sometimes not updated too regularly - for example it make take a couple of years after someone dies before their name is removed.


Ken Boyce
04-10-2007, 4:26 AM
To add to Wirrals postings the Kelly's (one of a number of directory publishers) London Directories were published annually and the contents followed a somewhat consistent pattern. Except for some early years they had no connection with the government Postal Service. A full edition of a Kelly's Directory contained some twelve “sub” directories – Official – Street – Commercial – Trade – Law – Court – Parliamentary – Postal – City – Conveyance – Banking – Insurance. This pattern was generally followed from the early 1800’s. Unfortunately very few full editions are presently available on CD or the net – book dealers having split them for profit. In the very early years one paid a single fee for a listing in up to six (I believe) of the sub-directories. However competition between the different publishers was such that the fee was soon waived and eventually disappeared resulting in more and more “ordinary folk” being included in the directories. I leave it to Wirral to expand on the content of each part but briefly the London Trade Sub-Directories contain many listings of single tradesmen such as Plumbers, Bricklayers etc but do not contain a listing of the employees of companies. The important thing to note about Trade entries is are they listed just by name or are they grouped by trade then by name The latter is usually the more useful. The Court Directories tend to contain “Upper Crust & Middle Class folks” The Business and Professional Sub-Directories contain just that Some directories contain combined private residential listings of all the sub-directories The Street Directories contain listings of whoever is the principle occupier of the address, business or individual – suburban residential streets are sparse but do exist.
The area covered by the London Directories is roughly the same as the London census give or take

The great buys for London are the 1851, 1856, 1902(all 4 cds), 1932 (2CDs) or 1938 (2CDs) which are possibly the most complete editions available on CD The 1851 is made more complete by adding the missing Trade Section which is available on the 1851 Six County Trade ed CD available from most suppliers

Then there is one of the greatest and most underrated directories of all time and that is the 1791 British Universal don't let the title fool you it contains much stuff for London

12-02-2008, 4:17 AM
Hi, I'm from Canada and we have what we call the Henderson Directories for most of the larger cities. It sounds like what you are talking about. My question is: how would someone like me find a library in the UK that might be willing to look up a name or address for me? In Canada, someone at the library will do it for free as long as you specify a name or address and a year. Can someone help me here? If for example, I wanted to check in a directory for Sussex, where would I ask about it?

12-02-2008, 8:11 AM
You might find a useful entry on the historic directories (http://www.historicaldirectories.org/)web-site.

The use of these sources goes beyond simply looking up an entry so it is often worthwhile purchasing a directory on CD to look at where someone is known to have lived, there are lots available on The Parich Chest (http://www.parishchest.com/) you might find them available through other suppliers who advertise in family history magazines.

Dennis Lord
14-02-2008, 8:24 AM
I checked out the trade directories for Cumberland 1850s' looking for Maryport. I could not seem to find a way to fast track to Maryport to look for relatives. I clicked one page at a time until page 148 where Maryport was, then the directory started with the letter 'H' to Z.
I was looking for 'G' for Grahams and I could not locate the 'A' to 'G' section with family heads as you mentioned.
How do I do this?
Also, what is 'fuzzy' about.
I also tried location on the left side bar to fast track to Maryport, also the 'search' always redirected me to the front page of the Cumberland directory.
So, I am at a loss as to how to make it work for me. Can I find someone to make it simple for me?

14-02-2008, 8:50 AM
If it is the 1858 directory, it would appear that pages 186 and 187 are not included, this could either be because of error, of because the folio is missing from this copy of the directory.

There are other directories available for Cumberland.

David Annis
14-02-2008, 3:32 PM
|cheers|Just spent an interesting few minutes looking at Geoffers suggested site.
Now book marked I shall spend more time looking.
Cheers Geof.
Any more stuff on the web like this.

04-03-2008, 1:46 PM
I have found the trade directories invaluable, absolutely fab in fact.

I was fortunate that the family I am researching all stayed in the same area. I spent 4 hours at the local library going through each directory on microfiche, I managed to locate their whereabouts from approx 1895-1934. I then used old telephone directories to find them up to 1956!

I stumbled upon the historical directories website by doing a google search and its brilliant, just shame there are more!!! ;)

I found that the information was quite up to date, for eg one ancestor had died and left the business to his wife and this was accurate in that the following year she was the proprietor, the dates tied in perfectly.

I also find the geographical descriptions really interesting and reading some of the adverts!


Ed McKie
07-03-2008, 7:22 AM
I have also used Trade Directories quite a bit, in fact my wife and I spent several days in a Library in Melbourne going through their microfilm copies of the London directories from the Guildhall. Just recently I did a comparison of a trade directory against the 1841 census for one street. I then found that because of the peculiarities of the house numbering, where there were two sets of the same numbers in the street, the directory had lumped them all together, so that I had assumed that everyone in Number ten for instance were in the same house !!
whereas of course there were two number tens, and only the census was able to sort them.