Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Handy Hints - historical directories

Surviving historical directories generally start from around the 1840s (they're pretty scarce before that point) and stretch on into the 1900s. In the earlier days they obviously weren't needed for either phone number or address purposes, except in the larger towns - in the villages everyone knew where everyone lived! For genealogists today they are a great resource for understanding a village.

From them you'll be able to establish the relative size of the town or village you are interested in, churches and other key places within the village, local transportation, notable events (eg the town being destroyed by fire or ravaged by smallpox) and key residents. Note that not everyone will be included, generally just notable families and tradesmen, and some places are too small to warrant their own entry.

I've transcribed the entries for Wing for all the directories I've been able to get my hands on (further contributions always welcome). If you are looking for someone in particular, there's also a cross-referenced index of names found in those directories, otherwise just browse by year from the home page to get a feel for Wing at any given time.

A fabulous website is www.historicaldirectories.org, where a collection of English and Welsh directories have been scanned and made freely available for viewing (you can also save individual pages to PDF) by the University of Leicester. The original commitment was to have these on the web until October 2007 - there's no word yet as to whether this will be extended, so now would be a good time to research the villages found in your family tree. I've just made some interesting new discoveries, like my cabinet-maker great-great-grandfather also being listed as an auctioneer in Blandford Dorset in 1842.


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