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Beginning Your Family History

Part Five: Trade Directories, Maps and Photographs

User Avatar Penelope Lovesy 22/05/2020 14:20:58

The names, dates and locations we have discovered through births, marriages and deaths, church records and the census form the structure of your family tree. Next we’ll learn how to add some local context to this basic information as it can really bring your ancestors to life.

Trade directories can be an interesting place to start. Trade directories were first published in the seventeenth century but became more conventional in the nineteenth century. Directories were published annually like today’s telephone directories. Early directories contain lists of traders in an area. They were put together so commercial travellers could tour around the country and sell their wares.

Later directories contain a wealth of information, for example; a brief history of the town and information about transport, churches and schools. They also contain a street directory, a list of private individuals and a list of trades and traders.

Directories can be used to:

  • Provide an historical context of an area
  • Research an individual person
  • Research a particular address
  • Research trades and traders
  • Trace a person, address or trade through several different years

Often Local Studies Libraries have collections of directories. Luckily, we can also find some online:  http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection/p16445coll4

The University of Leicester has digitised directories from the 1760s to the 1910s. 

You can search and browse by county and by name and place. There is a wealth of information on how to search and what you can discover here; http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection/p16445coll4/custom/search

The Wilson family were living in Britannia Road, Parkstone in the 1911 census, so I decided to search for Parkstone in the directories. I selected Dorset and then the 1911 Kelly’s Directory. This allows a search of the whole directory. I then put Parkstone in the search box and clicked filtered results. I found the complete entry for Parkstone on page 152. Reading the initial entry for Parkstone gives a flavour of where the Wilsons were living - it also gives a list of schools and some of the trades in the area. The population figures show that the population is steadily increasing so it may have been an up and coming area.

After the potted history of Parkstone is a list of private residents in alphabetical order.  This only gives one person per address. I wanted Wilson so skipped a few pages on to page 160 and found Wilson, Jn. Hy. builder & contr. Manora, Britannia Road. (Those of you with a good memory will remember that last week I read the address as Mamosa on the 1911 census, showing the perils of transcribing old handwriting!)

Trade directories can be used to give a real insight into where your ancestors were living, and they can also be used to trace your ancestors between census records. 

A description of areas and place is great, but a visual image can also add so much life to your family tree. Maps are a wonderful resource to see what areas looked like and provide a historical context.  Again, your Local Studies Libraries will have collections of maps for an area. In Poole History Centre, for example, we can trace the development of Poole using maps from 1634 to the 1950s. However, again luckily, the National Library of Scotland provides an amazing online resource of digitised maps:  https://maps.nls.uk/os/6inch-england-and-wales/

Click on the link and then select As Individual Sheets using a zoomable map of England and Wales.

A message containing search tips will appear. Once you have finished reading this click close and the on the left-hand side of the screen enter a place or address into the placename search box. You can change the map / map series in a lower down drop-down box to get different years and types of map.

I typed in Britannia Road, Poole and was able to look at maps from around 1900 onwards which gave a real feeling of where the Wilson family lived. 

Historic maps are useful too as places often change over time - street names can change - and so they help to locate your ancestors. You can use the map to look at the nearest churches and schools, and the local industry. People often stayed close to home for worship, education and work so you can speculate about the types of lives your ancestors led.

Other visual resources to add detail to your ancestors’ lives are photographs. Local History Libraries, Museums, Archives and Local History Societies may have digitised photos of their area, so it is worth having a look on the internet for the places on your family tree. Poole History Centre does have a digital collection of photos found on Poole History Online: http://www.poolehistory.org.uk/

I used the website to search for Ashley Cross (the location of Britannia Road) and found lovely photos of the area which really allowed me to see what the Wilson family would have seen in their daily lives.

If you’re a member of Facebook, there are often local interest groups which you can join. People post historical photos and information and it is also possible to ask if anyone has images or memories of the locations that you’re looking for. For local Poole history I am a member of ‘Memories of old Poole and Bournemouth’. 

I hope you have a fascinating time immersing yourself in the areas where your ancestors lived. Please contact us if you have any questions or want to share your journey so far localhistory@bcpcouncil.gov.uk


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