Many family researchers find English ancestors in their lineage. Some immigrates were coming to America in the 1600s and others in the 1900s. My own father, his immediate and extended family came from Manchester, England arriving at different periods between 1893 and 1914. By tracing these family branches, using the U.K. censuses and vital records I have a very good record of where the ancestors lived and what occupations they held.
An excellent online site, Historical Directories, is a digital library of local and trade directories for England and Wales, from 1750 to 1919. By having access to these scanned images produced by the University of Leicester it has offered even greater insight to the life and times of my English ancestors.
The site is very easy to use and view. On the homepage, you can select to search either by decade, location or using a keyword. If you had a certain family name to check, using the keyword would be best. If any ancestors were in a certain location for years, going over the location search would be interesting.
Using the keyword search, you should still select a location to narrow the search. Those places are by counties of England and then a separate division for Wales. To further narrow the quest, select a decade.
Then type in your key word (s). The more unusual the surname the less listings are found. If you place a relative’s full name, remember the listing from the different directories could have the surname first or a given name. If you were looking for William Fitzwilliam, you could place it as ‘William w/2 Fitzwilliam’ which means ‘within operator’ and the search would look for William within 2 words of Fitzwilliam, hence increasing your chances. If you are unsure of a certain spelling, use the ‘?’, which is the wildcard character, such as ‘Te?low.’
Once you place the information for the search a listing will appear. There could one or many listings. Each will have a date of the directory, a title and a location. Start with any that say ‘Alphabetical Directory.’ Others will be businesses, trades, and street directories. Click on the link titled ‘Fact File’ which will give an overview of that directory. Also it can help break down the directory into sections alphabetically and by content.
Return to the directory you are interested in viewing and click now on directory. At the top the number of ‘hit’ with your key search word will be provided. To view each one, click on ‘next hit’ and on the directory page the key word will be highlighted in yellow. Keep going to the next hit to view all the matches. There is also a zoom in and out to easier viewing. A screen print or ‘save as’ can save that image of a directory page to your computer.
A reminder, many surnames are also the names of businesses, buildings and especially street names. However, that is still interesting, even if it is not your direct ancestor to find buildings and streets with a family surname.
If you know from a census report of a street your ancestor lived on, plug in that name also to find your relative and any others along that street. There could be addition individuals you did not know lived nearby. With the directories covering numerous years, it can help fill in missing information versus the every 10 year census reports.
The search in the directories is great just to see the diverse occupations during certain time frames plus the advertisements are most interesting. A good deal of history is right there to examine.
An interesting investigation into these city, trade and business directories could produce some fascinating results. The above 1891 advertisement from a directory has the Tetlow family branch name.