The earliest known trade directory was probably a list of merchants in London published by Samuel Lee in 1677. The Little London Directory [below], searchable online at Archive.org, has ‘A collection of the names of the merchants living in and about the City of London. Very useful and necessary’. Merchants mentioned include Theodore Trotle whose address is listed as ‘near Fishmongers Hall, Thames Street’, and Anthony Depremont, of Austin Friars. Directories are a glimpse into another world, offering a chance to locate a relative and learn more about a specific trade. More recently, paper directories switched online and are still relevant for today’s workforce.
The directory business blossomed in the 18thcentury when trade directories were joined by local town guides and tourist guides, all useful sources of information for family history researchers whether looking for specific people, local history or background information about lifestyle at a particular period in time. With the Industrial Revolution, these directories became more professional, covering whole counties and included advertisements.
Trade specific directories also started to appear and publishers updated the information every few years. Information included businessmen and their addresses, businesses listed by category, maps and classified listings. In 1836, Frederic Kelly bought the Post Office London Directory from the Post Office and went on to publish county titles, paying researchers to visit street and update information. Kelly’s Directories [above] continued publishing into the 20thcentury [below]. Read more about Kelly’s at The Genealogist [below].With the coming of the telephone, specialist directories soon appeared listing phone numbers. The national archive of British Telecom directories is held at the Holborn Telephone Exchange in London while Ancestry has digitised directories from 1880 to 1984.
To trace all trade and telephone directories, try the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, as well as your local library and county archives.
This post is inspired by an article in the December 2018 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.
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