Recording women and business in the censuses

It has long been considered that women’s occupations were under-recorded in the Victorian censuses. From the end of the eighteenth century there was a growing separation of work spheres for men and women. A middle class ideal had emerged, in which a woman’s place was in the home, where she had responsibility for the emotional, physical and moral needs of the family, while the man’s role was to work to provide for them all.

Of course this was not an ideal to which most working class women could aspire. Although many married women from the labouring classes of childbearing years had no choice but to stay home and look after their children, they did this alongside cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry. They may also have taken in work to fit in alongside the above. Those three little words: ‘Unpaid Domestic Duties’ – or even a blank space where the name of an occupation should be written – may suggest a life of leisure, but the reality for many women involved long hours of hard physical work.

There was also the matter of the legal position of women and property. Prior to the Married Women’s Property Act of 1770 everything a woman earned was legally the income of her husband; while prior to the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, all of a woman’s property and possessions passed to her husband when she married. It isn’t difficult to imagine that these assumptions and attitudes would filter through into society, and indeed into the decennial enumerations of people and their lives:

“Census enumerators, who were mainly men, gave to household heads, again mostly male, census household schedules which they filled up using instructions provided by the exclusively male civil servants of the General Register Office (GRO) in London. The Victorian enumerators collected the household schedules and copied them into census enumeration books (CEBs), and then dispatched these to the officials at the GRO. When the latter received the CEBs they proceeded to ‘abstract’ the information in them using classification and coding systems they had devised to create tables and commentaries to be published in Parliamentary Papers.”
(See Edward Higgs and Amanda Wilkinson: Women, Occupations and Work in the Victorian Censuses Revisited.)

Based on in-depth research and analysis, the report just cited included a provisional conclusion that the nineteenth-century census returns *are* a reliable source for the study of women’s work in the period. However, as genealogists we look at individual people rather than trends.

A research project I’m working on has prompted me to think about a very specific occupational group: firstly, family businesses, where the husband/ head of household and the wife are working together from the home or shop; and secondly, exactly the same circumstances, but where the woman owned and ran the company before marriage.

Census records from my previous research for two examples of this are as follows:

In 1911, Oldham (below), a husband was listed as ‘Musical Instrument Dealer’, working on own account, and the premises were a shop with the family living above it. The business was established and seemingly successful. His wife is listed as ‘Assisting in the business’. In the ‘status code’ added in pen by the enumerator (second column from end) the husband’s status is 6 (own account); his wife’s is 0 (meaning ‘no employment’):

Extract from a 1911 census schedule showing the different attitudes to men's work and women's work

In 1891, Leeds (below), the husband was listed as ‘Wardrobe(?) Shop Keeper’, employer. His wife and their 19 year-old daughter are both ‘Shop Assistants’, employed. (Employment status is indicated by the location of the X in the last three columns.)

Extract from an 1891 census schedule showing the different attitudes to men's work and women's work

But then I came across Mary.
Mary was a Lodging House Keeper on the Isle of Wight. As an unmarried woman, living in a new house in an attractive expanding town, she built up her lodging house business from scratch. However, in 1853, fifteen or twenty years into her lodging house business, Mary married.

Legally, from the moment Mary signed the marriage register, everything she had worked for, and everything she owned, passed to her husband, Richard. If he had wanted to gamble it all away, throw her out on the streets, or whatever his whim, he could have done it. According to the Law, Mary had not a penny to her name. How would this play out on the records?

From that time, it is Richard who is listed in directories as the Lodging House Keeper. By virtue of the property he also has the right to vote in 1857 – something that was, of course, denied Mary prior to that. To Richard, too, it also falls to pay the parish Poor Rate Taxes. However, the census enumeration books tell a slightly different story:

In 1861, the first census after their marriage, Richard is listed as head of household and ‘Lodging House Keeper’. Mary, however, is not relegated to Unpaid Domestic Duties: she is ‘Lodging House Mistress’.

Unusual extract from an 1851 census in which the husband and wife are accorded (almost) equal occupational status in the census enumeration book entry.
Richard and Mary Hayman, 1861 England Census: Class: Rg 9; Piece: 658; Folio: 14; Page: 23; GSU roll: 542679

Ten years later – even more astonishing – both Richard and Mary are listed as ‘Lodging House Keeper’.

Unusual extract from an 1851 census in which the husband and wife are accorded equal occupational status in the census enumeration book entry.
Richard and Mary Hayman, 1871 England Census: Class: RG10; Piece: 1166; Folio: 37; Page: 19; GSU roll: 827798

Looking through census pages, the only examples I’ve found of a woman named on the census as the person running a business is if she was unmarried or widowed. I’ve also heard of women listed in local directories as having businesses in the high street, and yet having no mention of their occupation in the census – although I haven’t yet actually found any examples of that myself. If you look up Charlotte Brontë or Elizabeth Gaskell in the censuses taken at the height of their success, you’ll find an unmarried Charlotte whose occupation is ‘none’, and a married Elizabeth who is a ‘Minister’s wife’. All of which makes Mary’s entries here even more remarkable – to the extent that I’m surprised the census enumerator didn’t water it down on transferring the information to the enumeration books.

Having spent some time finding out about Mary, I have a sense of a strong woman who liked to help the young women in her family to progress in their lives. These entries add to that, perhaps providing an insight into her marriage: Richard’s respect for Mary, and Mary’s strength of character.

What about you? I’d love to know of any other finds along these lines. Mary is unusual, but I hope she isn’t a one-off!


When I started my journey into my family’s past I never expected to find riches and grand families. Indeed, what I love about genealogy is that it enables us to home in on the ‘little’ people, and to find the extraordinary in their seemingly ordinary lives. I soon realised that this ‘bottom up’ focus was the difference between Genealogy and the History I studied to ‘A’ Level at school. Yet we cannot really understand our ancestors’ lives without knowing something of that social and political backdrop which is the stuff of formalised history studies: the local history, the manorial system, changing governments and their legislation and increasingly, as we travel back further in time, the whims, decisions, abuses and power of the monarch.

Today, as the coronation of Charles III as King of the United Kingdom takes place at Westminster Abbey, I thought it would be interesting to focus on the kings and queens of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, and to see how that history merges with and indeed shaped the world our ancestors knew.

Let’s start with a YouTube video from UsefulCharts about the British Monarchy Family Tree: Medieval Kings of England & Scotland to Charles III. This deals with the succession of the monarchy from Anglo-Saxon times right through to present day.

At 30 minutes long, the video requires a little investment of time, but the family tree chart is absolutely brilliant, allowing the narrator to whizz up and down and from side to side as he explains very clearly the sometimes complex events and reasons leading to the passing of the throne from one king or queen to the next. Even if your grasp of all this is quite sketchy, you’re sure to meet people whose names you know, and you’ll start to see how they all fit together. In my case, studying heraldry and pedigrees, and getting to grips with the cataloguing of official documents according to the regnal years dating system forced me to familiarise myself with some of the medieval monarchs. However, in this chart you’ll also meet Macbeth, ‘Lady Macbeth’ and Duncan, as well as Alfred the Great; and you’ll be able to untangle the relationship between Aethelred the Unready and King Canute, and the events that led from them to the invasion of William the Conqueror. There were also some female monarchs about whom I knew very little: Lady Jane Grey, Queen Anne and – for shame – I am one of those people who thought Mary Queen of Scots and Mary I of England (the older sister of Elizabeth I, also known as ‘Bloody Mary’) were the same person. If you never really understood how William of Orange came to be next in line to the English throne, or how George I came to be king (he is in fact descended from the Stuarts and the Plantagenets, but not on the direct male line), this video will clarify everything. Finally, I hadn’t previously realised that it was the accession of Henry VIII to the throne that brought an end to the War of the Roses, since he was of both the House of York via his mother and that of Lancaster via his father. This also explains why the Tudor Rose, or Rose of England combines the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of Yorkshire at its heart.

Other monarchs feature in events more personal to my own family research. For example Edward ‘The Black Prince’ has a special place at the heart of my home town, Leeds – although no one really knows why! A large bronze statue of the Prince in City Square was unveiled in 1903 to mark Leeds’s new city status. Then there’s Henry of Lancaster who, via a circuitous route, had inherited the Manor of Leeds. Consequently, in 1399 when he was crowned Henry IV, Leeds became a royal manor, remaining so until 1629. Watching the video I see that Edward The Black Prince is the older brother of Henry IV’s father – John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster – who, as mentioned above, had by chance become lords of the Manor of Leeds… and that seems to be as close a connection as we’ll ever find. Nevertheless, the statue is much-loved, and on a personal note I’m pleased to have done my part in clearing that up…

My knowledge of the Jacobite Uprising has largely been informed by Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (it turns out I’m not as high brow as you might have imagined), and I already knew of a tenuous link from this to my own ancestry: on 24th September 1745, my 7x great grandfather, the Reverend Lister Simondson, was one of the Association at York Castle who pledged funds to raise a militia against the Jacobite Threat.

I wonder if this video sparks off any connections, tenuous or otherwise, to your own ancestry?

If you enjoyed the above video I also found a couple of shorter ones. The first focuses on the more recent connections: the descendants of Queen Victoria, who feature in the royal families of all of the European monarchies and kingdoms. You’ll see footage of George V and Tsar Nicholas: first cousins, and looking uncannily alike, as well as lookalikes Edward VII and his nephew Kaiser Wilhelm II (also therefore George V’s first cousin, as well as third cousin to Nicholas II).

And finally, a little more information about the descent of House names, and specifically Charles III’s technical connection via his father to the House of Glücksburg, although he will maintain the Windsor name. In both these videos you’ll see how marriages were far from love matches, but a means of building empires and wealth. In this they are simply grander and more pan-European examples of the kind of pedigree charts we have in this country.

You simply can’t do advanced genealogical research without having an understanding of the importance of this historical backdrop, and at least knowing where you can go to look it up, so if any of this is new to you, I hope you’ve found this little selection of videos useful and interesting. Preparing it has certainly clarified some things for me.


On an unrelated matter…
If any of you are in Leeds, and might be free for an hour next Thursday 11th May 2023, at lunchtime, I’ll be giving a talk about my research on one of my own ancestral lines, the kinds of records I used, and what I learned about seventeenth century Leeds and Woodhouse in the process.

Publicity screenshot for a talk to be given at Leeds Central Library on 11 May 2023

If you’re interested, please see all the information and reserve a (free) ticket [here].

The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker

In my last post I said I would review this excellent book by Roger Hutchinson.  It was published in 2017 and has sat on my own bookshelves for two years after being recommended to me by a colleague, but now that I’ve finally got round to reading it I’m very glad I did.

First of all I want to say something about the title: The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker: The story of Britain through its census since 1801.  Chances are, since you’re reading my blog, that you’re a genealogist…  Am I right?  I may also be right, then, in thinking you probably have a different book in mind from the one I’m going to describe to you.  In fact, when I asked my husband (eyes glaze over if any utterance about genealogy lasts longer than thirty seconds) what he thought this book would be about, he also had the same ideas as me.  So we need to clear this up.  This is not a book about the kinds of occupations you find in the censuses.  It doesn’t, as you and I do, start with the people and then expand from there about the kind of life they might have had, or the kind of town they might have lived in.  Is that something along the lines you were thinking…?  No.  It actually starts from the top, with the policy decisions, the types of questions asked, why they were asked, the ongoing concern in the nineteenth century to grow the population and overcome public health problems.  It includes numbers – quite a lot of them – about how many people fell into different types of occupation, how many people left the country or came to the country.  It is, in short, a book that focuses on the real reasons why the census was taken in the first place – the reasons upon which we, as genealogists, piggy-back to get the raw data about our ancestors.  So my first point is that while the title of the book may be snappy, it’s a bit misleading.  That is my only criticism.  Apart from that, it’s a great book.

The history of the census, it turns out, might almost have gone back to 1590, when Queen Elizabeth I’s Lord High Treasurer, William Cecil, proposed an annual, centralised collection of certain data, to be provided to the government and to the Archbishop of Canterbury to assist in national planning.  The Archbishop wasn’t interested, and the idea came to nothing.  The matter was raised again in 1753 by Thomas Potter, MP.  The aim at this time was largely military-related: it would be useful for Britain to keep tabs on the size of her male population should there be a need to raise a large army.  On the other hand, should the size of the male population be smaller than anticipated, and should this information fall into enemy hands, this could backfire.  Other objections related to the cost of such an activity and the affront on British liberty, whose population had every right not to be ‘molested and perplexed’ and ‘divested of the last remains of our birthright’ by having someone come knocking to demand information about their households.  The matter did not go away, though, and it was a young polymath named John Rickman whose arguments finally tipped the balance.  His ‘Thoughts on the Utility and Facility of Ascertaining the Population of England’, published in the June 1800 issue of The Commercial and Agricultural Magazine, came to the attention of George Rose, MP for Christchurch, and on the last day of that year, An Act for taking an Account of the Population of Great Britain, and of the Increase or Diminution thereof received Royal Assent.  John Rickman was charged with organising it, and continued to do so until his death.

The chapter covering the first four Censuses, 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831, bears the title A Hazy Snapshot from the Air – a reference to the fact that it collected no in-depth information about each household.  Instead, every parish was required to return numbers of inhabited/ uninhabited houses, numbers of families occupying them, numbers of people (male/female) with a very basic breakdown of their occupations, and information about numbers of baptisms, marriages and burials.  The precise questions varied over the four censuses, but the general thrust remained the same.  Initially there were gaps in the data collected, as some parishes declined to participate, but over this period support grew, and understanding developed of the benefits to the nation of the data included and the conclusions drawn by John Rickman in his decennial reports.  So much so that by 1841 the census, which took place a few months after John Rickman’s death, moved up a gear.  Henceforth, names, ages and occupations of individual household members would be collected, along with information about birthplace (‘this county’ or not; Scotland; Ireland; or ‘foreign parts’), and with every passing census additional information would be required.  From 1842 the organisation of the census in England and Wales would fall to a highly successful double-act: George Graham as Registrar General, and William Farr.  As an epidemiologist, Farr’s interest was in the living conditions of the people in the various locations, and particularly in the expanding towns and cities.  Regarded as one of the founders of medical statistics, his demographic reports focused on public health.  There is no doubt that his work was instrumental in developing the understanding and application of these fields in the United Kingdom.  As an example, his introduction of questions about infirmities in the 1851 census led directly to the implementation of the compulsory smallpox vaccination in 1853.

Having established the history of the census, the reasons for it and the undoubted benefits, from this point Hutchinson uses each census as a starting point for discussing events and societal issues.  While the general trend of the discussion is chronological, moving from decade to decade, his highlighting of salient issues from each census is used as a springboard for broader discussion of those and related topics.  Hence, a breakdown of occupations in the 1851 census leads on to discussion of unusual job titles, some localised and specific, many long-since fallen into disuse, and some of them almost certainly false.  This leads to a discussion of prostitution, and from there to women’s place in society, their hardships when a (higher-earning) male is not present, and from there to the women’s suffrage movement, even though that movement fully came to the fore in the twentieth century.  The Irish famine of 1845-1850, which was the topic of my last post, is dealt with in two chapters: the first about languages of the United Kingdom (of which Ireland was part in the nineteenth century) and the second about migration.  This weaving together of topics is masterful, and brings what might otherwise be a dry discussion of census information to life.

Mention has already been made of the fact that this is not a book about people and occupations to be found in the censuses.  That said, named people do appear.  They are brought in to illustrate the points being made.  Some of the individuals included are famous, like Charlotte Brontë and Harold Macmillan; others are randomly selected and their histories to the point at which they have been located in the census researched by the author.  Yet more are the author’s own ancestors. 

How can this book be useful to us as genealogists and family historians?  Well, if you’re still at the nuts and bolts beginner stage of names, dates, locations and events, it won’t be.  However, as we progress as genealogists we need to have broader knowledge.  Where is my GGG grandfather?  He’s supposed to be a blacksmith in Darlington?  Now he seems to be in Leeds.  What’s happening that might have caused him to move?  This is the sort of book that will help you to understand the underlying changes in our country, the massive shifts that resulted by 1911 in 78% of the population living in urban areas and only 22% remaining in rural locations. Compare this to only 1861, when the census showed that for the first time in history, more citizens in the UK lived in towns and cities than in the countryside.

As previously stated, this book was published in 2017 – before the release of the 1921 census.  However, this is not an issue.  While the enumeration sheets are subject to the hundred-year rule, the statistics and reports are not.  Hence, although the book was written prior to the taking of the 2021 census, the discussion continues right up to the reports published after 2011.  Similarly, although the 1931 census papers were lost in a fire in 1942, the reports were not, meaning we do have the figures showing unemployment and migration during the Depression, just as we have evidence of an economic boom in the Shetlands and Aberdeen since the 1970s, and statistics following the arrival of almost five hundred passengers on board the Windrush in 1948.

All in all, for the intermediate and advanced genealogist, this is a very useful book. It has already helped me to understand the enormous changes in the City of London (“square mile”), which at the beginning of the census era actually included farmland, and might conceivably have been the birthplace of a humble weaver. Definitely a case of ‘the past being a very different place’!

If you’d like to look for yourself at some of the historical abstracts and data (without the enumerators’ lists) a good place to start is Histpop – The Online Historical Population Reports Website.

Danny Boy

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side.
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling,
It’s you, it’s you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow,
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow,
It’s I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow,
Oh, Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so!

But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an Ave there for me.

And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,
For you will bend and tell me that you love me,
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me!

Lyrics by Frederic E Weatherly (c.1910-1913)
Set to the tune of Londonderry Air

Political and historical background
The Acts of Union of 1800 were parallel Acts of the Parliament of Great Britain and that of Ireland.  The Union came into effect on 1 January 1801, abolishing the Irish Parliament while giving Ireland 100 MPs at Westminster and 28 peers in the House of Lords.  The whole of Ireland was now part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  However, from the 1870s, nationalist agitation grew, ranging from support for Home Rule from the Irish Parliamentary Party (but remaining part of the Union) to calls for full independence from the republican Sinn Féin movement.  It was during the 1910s and early 1920s that nationalist opinion shifted from the former to the latter, the period 1912-1923 being known as the Irish revolutionary period. 

In 1914 the UK Parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act, intended to establish self-government for Ireland, but with the outbreak of war in July of that year, implementation of the Act was suspended.  The Easter Rising against British rule in April 1916 was quashed within a week, yet the execution of fifteen people by firing squad, the imprisonment of hundreds more, and the imposition of martial law were decisive in turning popular support towards the Republican cause.  On 21 January 1919 Irish Republicans formed a breakaway government and declared Irish independence.  This began the Irish War of Independence which ended with a ceasefire on 11 July 1921.  The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on 6 December of that year after negotiations led by Michael Collins on the Irish side, with David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill for the British team.  The Treaty envisaged an ‘Irish Free State’ which went much further than Home Rule but fell short of full independence: Ireland would remain within the British Empire.  For this reason, agitation would continue with the outbreak of Civil War on 28 June 1922, concluding 24 May 1923.  The Irish Free State Constitution Act was passed by the British Parliament on 6 December 1922 and originally included all 32 counties of the island of Ireland.  However, the treaty allowed the six-county Unionist-majority Northern Ireland one month in which to decide whether to be part of the Irish Free State or remain part of a United Kingdom of Northern Ireland.  On 8 December 1922 Northern Ireland chose the latter.  The Free State came to an end on 29 December 1937, when the state of Ireland headed by the new President of Ireland (in place of Governor-General of the Irish Free State) was formed.

The view from the Census
Although the decennial census in the rest of the United Kingdom commenced in 1801, the first full (UK government) census of Ireland was taken in 1821.  In keeping with the rest of the UK, there followed one census every ten years, from 1831 to 1911.  In view of the War of Independence, there was no census in 1921, and from 1926 the censuses for Ireland became a matter for the Irish government.  Also as in the rest of the UK, the censuses of 1821 and 1831 focused on the numbers rather than the people, with the first modern census taking place in 1841.  Unfortunately, almost all of the returns for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 were destroyed on 30 June 1922 when, at the commencement of the Irish Civil War, Dublin’s Public Record Office was destroyed by explosion and fire.  (I wrote about this and the subsequent virtual reconstruction of the former Public Record Office [here].)

In 1841 the census recorded a total of 8,175,238 people living in (the island of) Ireland.  Ten years later, on 30 March 1851, that number had fallen to 6,552,385.  Given the natural anticipated rise in population, in normal circumstances a number closer to nine million might have been expected.  Taking this into account, the loss of population between 1841 and 1851 could be computed at 2.5 million. 

The reason was, of course An Gorta Mor, or The Great Famine, which commenced in 1845 with the potato blight and continued until around 1850.  In his report for the 1851 Census in Ireland, Irish Registrar General William Donnelly wrote that around a million people had died from hunger or famine-related diseases, although he added that the true figure was impossible to count and this may be an underestimate.  A further million people emigrated.  In one eight-month period from 1 May 1851 to 31 December 1851, 152,000 people left Ireland, but it did not stop there.  A further 190,325 emigrated in 1852; 173,148 in 1853 and 190,556 in 1854.  As Donnelly wrote in his report, these were mostly from the lower classes.  These were of course the hardest-hit, being largely dependent on the potato crop for their own sustenance.  It is not difficult to understand how this disaster fed into the movement for Independence.  Other crops and livestock were unaffected; and while the poorest people starved to death, exports of such produce continued throughout.  Further, absentee landlords, numbering about ten thousand, had no interest in their Irish lands other than as a source of income.  The management of their lands was carried out by hired middle men, who rented out small parcels of land to tenants and even during the famine dealt ruthlessly with those who could not pay the rent, with the result that many of the starving lower classes were also without land or a home.  It is easy to see why, when the potato blight returned to Europe in 1879, this fed into the nationalist agitation.

By the time of the 1861 census the population of Ireland had collapsed further: a reduction of almost one million more people, to 5,764,543.  Almost two hundred years after the onset of The Great Famine, Ireland’s population has never recovered to the 1841 position.

Where did these people go?
Those who could afford it tended to go to the United States of America.  Those who couldn’t crossed the Irish Sea to Great Britain, where they arrived hungry, destitute and clothed in rags.  Many would also have been unable to speak English.  I have several United States censuses to thank for clarifying this.  Other than in Ireland, the UK census did not, at this time, include any questions about languages, and in any case, of course, the 1841 and 1851 census returns were lost to us in the fire of 1922.  However, following up on the families of some of my own DNA matches who settled in Pennsylvania, I found that the recorded mother-tongue of many of the contemporaries of my County Mayo ancestors was Gaelic.  Indeed it is estimated that as of 1841, half of the Irish population spoke only Gaelic or were bilingual Gaelic-English – and that most of the Gaelic speakers were concentrated in the west and south-west: the provinces of Connaught and Munster, and the very places most impacted by the potato blight and the consequent deaths and emigrations.  Now, desperate for work and somewhere to stay, they start to appear on English, Scottish and Welsh census returns, crowded into slums in the poorest, unhealthiest areas, sometimes as many as thirty to a room, subjected to racial discrimination and accused of dirty habits.  Census figures show that in 1841, of a total Great Britain population (i.e. England, Scotland, Wales) of 18,553,124, there were 419,256 individuals on the census who declared their place of birth as Ireland.  In 1851, of a GB population of 21,121,967, there were 727,326 Irish-born residents.  And in 1861, when the GB population numbered 23,085,579, there were  805,717 Irish-born residents.  Of course, by this time, some of these incomers would have married and had children in their new locations, meaning their children, although perhaps identifying as ‘Irish’ and living in Irish communities, would show up in the census as British born.  Initially, most of the Irish-born migrants settled in Liverpool and in other pockets of Lancashire, in Glasgow, London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Workington and the Newcastle upon Tyne area.  Click [here] to see a map showing where they had settled by 1851. 

Danny Boy
The starting point of this post was the Irish ballad ‘Danny Boy’.  In fact the lyrics were written by English lawyer and lyricist Frederic Weatherly.  It isn’t clear if he set them to the traditional Irish melody of ‘Londonderry Air’ or if this was done afterwards.

It’s also not absolutely clear what the song is about!  Certainly it’s from a mother to a son.  But is that son going off to war?  Is he, as suggested by the calling of the pipes, participating in the Republican cause?  Or is he emigrating in search of a better life for economic reasons or following the famine?

Today, the worldwide Irish diaspora extends to over 100 million people – more than fifteen times the population of the island of Ireland, and as many of them celebrate St Patrick’s Day and remember their roots, you can be sure that many of them will be singing Danny Boy. For me, it’s about the pain of emigration, about the mother who knows she is unlikely ever to see her son again, but wherever he is, her love will always be with him.

Front cover of an original copy of Danny Boy sheet music


The main part of this post, The view from the Census, draws upon Roger Hutchinson’s book: The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker. In my next post I’ll be reviewing the book.

Types of evidence

I have three times the genealogical goodness for you today, but it’s a click away. Or rather, three clicks.

Karen Cummings at Pharos Tutors asked me to write something about methodology for the Pharos blog. This was what I came up with: three posts about the different kinds of source material we use to evidence our family history research. All three posts have now published on the Pharos blog.

First, looking at Primary, Secondary and Original Sources.

Next, Derivative Records – the contemporary ones.

And finally, Modern Derivative Records, and thinking about how we can make these different kinds of source material work together for best effect.

There’s a lot of information there, but if you do go over read them, I hope you’ll find something of interest.

Do you need to buy the Civil BMDs?

Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths (BMDs), together with the districts, offices and officers required for the administration of the new system, was introduced on 1st July 1837. In theory, these life events of any ancestor or family member born after that date, or if they’re older, marrying or dying after that date, should have been notified to the appropriate local office and recorded by the state. That said, registration was not actually mandatory until 1875, and in the early years there was confusion. People were used to registering births (or baptisms), marriages and deaths (or burials) with the church, and it took a while for some to realise they now needed to register at a government office. However, certainly by 1875 everyone should have been registered using the appropriate channels, and the civil BMDs are an invaluable resource for anyone researching their family history.

But does that mean we *need* them? Let me explain my thoughts.
As genealogists we start with what we know and we work backwards. The period leading back to 1837 is the easier part, when we can compare and cross-reference family members listed on the censuses and the 1939 Register with the civil records of Births, Marriages and Deaths and probably Baptisms, Marriages and Burials within the parish church. Obviously, then, this is where we start as beginners, and where we make our mistakes. One thing I’ve noticed, over the years of seeing posts from inexperienced researchers online, is an assumption that it’s necessary to buy all the certificates. That’s a huge outlay. If we exclude ourselves and our parents but include all other direct ancestors born or still living after 1837, this could amount to 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 GG grandparents and maybe 32 GGG grandparents. That’s 60 ancestors, each with perhaps a birth certificate, one or more marriages, and a death certificate… possibly as many as 150-190 certificates to buy at £11 each (or £7 if a PDF is available). That’s £1650 – £2090. If we wanted to add in the records for all children born to our direct line, the cost would be astronomical. Taking one of my grandparents as an example, I counted back all direct ancestors and children born to them after 1837: one hundred and eleven people. Times that by four to get a rough estimate for all my grandparents, and that would be four hundred and forty four people, all with births, deaths and maybe marriages. There’s no way I could have justified that outlay.

We need to work out alternative ways of getting the same, or most of the same, information. Our starting point, then, should be to know what information is on each historic certificate.

Civil Birth Certificate
This includes:

  • Registration District, Sub-district and official reference numbers
  • Where and when born
  • Name (if decided at time of registration)
  • Sex
  • Name and surname of father
  • Name, surname and maiden surname of mother
  • Occupation of father
  • Signature, description and residence of informant
  • When registered
  • Signature of registrar
  • Any name registered after registration

Civil Marriage Certificate
This includes:

  • Registration District, Sub-district and official reference numbers
  • Where solemnized
  • When married
  • Name and surname of bride and groom
  • Age of both
  • Marital condition at time of marriage (bachelor, spinster, widowed)
  • Rank or Profession of both
  • Residence of both at the time of marriage
  • Father’s Name and Surname of both, together with fathers’ Rank or Profession

Civil Death Certificate
This includes:

  • Registration District, Sub-district and official reference numbers
  • When and where died
  • Name and surname
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Cause of death
  • Signature, description and residence of informant
  • When registered
  • Signature of registrar

Do we need all this information? Is it available anywhere else?
As a beginner I realised that my primary need was to move my research back in time, while ensuring I had the right people… alongside the need not to bankrupt myself! Therefore at that stage I could dispense with cause of death, for example, but I did need to know the parents’ names to help me move backwards and ensure I had the correct people. So here are a few examples of certificates I did buy, and others I didn’t, on the basis that I could get the information I needed from other documents, and other information was not yet essential to my needs.

Church of England marriage registers – the information on these is exactly the same as on the civil marriage certificate. If digital images of the original CofE parish register is available online via your genealogy website of choice, then you don’t need to buy. In fact, the parish register entry is better, because you will definitely see the couple’s signatures (or marks), and signatures could be used later for comparison with other documents. The only civil marriage certificates I have ever bought are those from Catholic churches (which unfortunately are still not widely available other than via the actual parish administrator or occasionally via local record offices), another that was solemnised in a Nonconformist chapel, and one other marriage for which I could find no digital images of the parish register available online.

Births – If you know the mother’s maiden name and if you have census returns showing all children of the family and their places of birth, you will probably be able to find all the births on the GRO Online indexes. You may also find some additional children who never made it to a census. The online index doesn’t give the actual date of birth; rather it gives the ‘quarter’ in which the birth was registered: M quarter being the three months ending March, J quarter being the three months ending June, and so on. As a beginner this may be sufficient for your needs, particularly for siblings of your ancestor. That said, you may find the additional information elsewhere. The 1939 Register includes the actual date of birth (for some reason it is often a year out, but the day and month are correct). You may also find more information on a baptism register entry: along with child’s name and date of baptism there will be both parents’ names, abode, father’s occupation and possibly the date of birth. A newspaper announcement of a birth will also give some of this information. In these early stages, where I did buy a birth certificate, this was to solve a puzzle. I bought one before the mother’s maiden name was included on the online index and I couldn’t find a marriage using only the father’s surname. (I still have never found the marriage.) Another was purchased because there was some intrigue surrounding the child’s actual birth parents (by the age of five he was informally adopted by another couple). Another, again, because of the inaccessibility of Catholic parish registers, and so on. If I could find almost all the information by other means that was acceptable.

Deaths – again, you can often narrow down the death to within a few months using the GRO Online indexes. Alongside the quarter and the registration district, the inclusion of age at death can help you to distinguish between deaths of other people of the same name – although we do need to allow for a little flexibility since the age is provided by the informant who may have guessed it. After 1858, you might also find the actual date of death and other useful information from the National Probate Calendar (without the need to purchase the Will, although at only £2 for a digital download I would get the Will anyway). What I really love, though, is a good municipal cemetery register. For example, my 4xG grandmother’s entry in 1860 at the York Fulford Road Cemetery (freely available on FamilySearch) gives her name and age at death, date of death, date of burial, the name of her husband and his ‘rank, trade or profession’, their residence, cause of death, the name and details of the informant and the officiating minister. Why on earth would I need to buy the death certificate?! This is the best register I’ve ever come across, but others come fairly close in terms of information recorded.

Again, even in my early years, there were times when the information I could get from the GRO index and the burial record wasn’t enough. For example, the death of a small boy with the very unusual yet exact same name as someone else in my tree, but in a completely unexpected location could only be confirmed as my family by the purchase of the civil death certificate. His sad death at such an early age also gave me additional information about his parents – that they had spent a short period in the early years of their marriage in a different county.

More advanced reseachers are likely to have different needs
All of the above relates to the nuts and bolts of building our family trees back to the introduction of Civil BMDs. There is no doubt that the information on each of the certificates will give us something useful to enable us to do this, but given the cost of each one, the goal so far has been to try to find that information elsewhere, even to go without a little information at this stage if most of it can be found using other documents.

As we progress, our needs change. Research becomes less about the nuts and bolts and more about the ‘family history’, or the stories of our ancestors’ lives. I will never need to buy the death certificate for that 4x G grandmother, or any of my other ancestors and wider family in the York Fulford Road Cemetery, but on occasion I’ve bought certificates for other individuals simply out of curiosity about their story. For example, the husband of a great aunt whose service record indicated he suffered a ‘severe shell gas wound’ in 1918 and who was not remembered with much love by wider family members. I read that many of the men who survived mustard gas attacks went on to die of tuberculosis, generally before or around the time of the outbreak of WW2. I could see that this person died in 1935 and wondered if TB was the cause. It seemed to me part of his story, an explanation perhaps for his behaviour, and part of the wider story of my own grandparents. So this was one of the certificates I bought more recently. Another story that intrigued me was the death six months apart of two GG grandparents, resulting in the orphaning of their large family and my own great grandfather being brought up in the workhouse from the age of six. I bought their death certificates just to find the two causes of death. Conversely, I’ll shortly be visiting the archives where microfiche copies of the Catholic registers for lack of availability of which I’ve already bought civil certificates. From these registers, I’ll be hoping to get names of the sponsors, which may help to broaden out my understanding of any other family members that came with these ancestors to England.

There are of course other examples like these ones, where I’m prompted by completion of ‘the story’ to buy the certificates, but in general I’m still of the ‘keeping costs to a minimum’ mentality. If you’re fairly inexperienced as a family history researcher I hope this has helped give you some pointers. If you’re an old hand it would be interesting to know how this compares with your own practice. Have you any examples of nuggets found in a unexpected source? Or perhaps of how eventually buying a certificate solved a mystery or completed a story? Do leave a comment!

The National Burial Grounds Survey

I have to admit to having a soft spot for a good burial records book. So it was with great interest that I learned a few months ago of a project to map every churchyard and burial ground in England and Wales. There have been a few articles published about it over the past couple of months so you may already know about it, but if not I hope this overview will be of interest.

It’s a huge project, commenced in the autumn of 2021 by Cumbria-based surveying and mapping company Atlantic Geomatics. Using state-of-the-art equipment, they are creating accurate maps of everything in every churchyard or cemetery. They will then photograph the memorials and headstones, and finally scan in original records of parish registers, linking them to specific graves on the map. Apart from the obvious uses for genealogists, church and local authority officials will be able to access their own private areas on the website, adding new records and photographs and recording biodiversity and health & safety information.

There are more than 18,000 church and municipal burial grounds in England and Wales. As of last August more than three hundred of them had been mapped, and it’s expected that the entire project will take seven years.

Although the church and other organisations will have free access to their own part of the website, there will be a cost to us, currently set at £8 per burial ground per month. This seems to me ample time to gather all the information for all ancestors buried in one parish or one municipal cemetery, and then perhaps subscribe another month to a different place.

Although The National Burial Grounds Survey website is now live, at the time of writing it just provides information about what’s happening and what will be available. There are also a couple of examples of mapped graveyards, but without the interactive records and headstone facilities. We won’t all have to wait seven years before any information beomes available, though. Completed data will go online diocese by diocese, as all stages of work for every burial ground within its boundaries become complete.

I’ve been thinking about how it might help with our research. Clearly there are overlaps with already available record sets and websites. Find-a-Grave, for example, (owned by includes data from 549,619 cemeteries in 246 different countries, with burial site, plot, information and headstone photographs. However, availability of information depends on whether or not a member of the Find-a-Grave ‘community’ has photographed and added the details to the website. The National Burial Grounds Survey will be systematic and largely all-embracing. I note from a document provided for the information of church/parish officials (see link at bottom of post) that ‘unmarked graves’ will not be mapped but can be added by officials when their whereabouts becomes known. I’m assuming this means plots simply not presently known to be graves, rather than ‘graves without a headstone’.

Family researchers like us will be able to do an initial search for free, and then subcribe by the month to access detailed information, including the exact location of the grave. This will be a great improvement on existing arrangements, which often involve contacting ‘Cems and Crems’ or religious burial ground officials, or even someone representing ‘Friends of XXX Cemetery’ going out and walking around to try to track down a specific grave for us. I’ve been lucky to have had great experience of these kinds of contacts, and free of charge, but some authorities make a significant charge for providing the information (more than the £8 monthly fee suggested here for just one request). It will be much easier to do an online index search and take it from there.

Linking the grave to the burial record is useful. Although much of this information is already available online, to see digital photos of the original record you do generally need a subscription to the commercial website licensed to provide it by the relevant Records Office where the originals are lodged. Furthermore, although coverage is increasing, not all parishes are yet available online; and certainly not all municipal cemeteries. My experience is that records kept by the latter are generally far more comprehensive than parish burial registers, easily standing in for a civil death certificate if required. In other words, the information provide by the records will vary in quality and detail and certainly won’t differ from what might already be available online.

Finally, although I note that the interior of churches will be mapped and location of pews, etc, recorded, there is no mention of the recording of graves within the churches, nor indeed the memorial flagstones, which I think is a great omission. Since amateur and professional genealogists are likely to be the primary paying users of the website, I think this is a missed opportunity. It’s a pity a representative from the Society of Genealogists or other family history organisation was not called upon for advice regarding the type of information we want. That said, precise locational information about who was buried where may already have been lost. The 1663 parish burial record of one of my ancestors states he was buried in the south aisle of the church. I’ve tried to find out precisely where, and with a view to photographing the memorial flagstone. Unfortunately, in this case the flagstones have long since been replaced, and there is no map.

To conclude, based on the information so far publicly available, I’m optimistic about this project. I’m sure it will make tracking down the final resting place of many people a simpler task, and without the need to bother local administrators with individual requests. Finding the exact location of the grave of many ancestors will be much easier, and that’s to be welcomed. I know I’ll be keen to subscribe for a month as soon as I know any of my main burial grounds of interest have gone live. That said, for the reasons outlined above there will inevitably be gaps in the indexes and, particularly for long-ago burials, it may not provide that vital piece of missing information we’ve been desperately hunting.


Here’s some additional information found online:

A document produced by the Church of England/ Atlantic Geomatics for the information of church and parish officials

An article about the project: The Spooky Quest to Build a Google Maps for Graveyards (NB: I don’t think it’s at all ‘spooky’!)

New Year, New Goals!

Hello everyone, and Happy New Year! I hope the festive period was happy, enjoyable, peaceful, comfortable – warm! – or whatever it was you needed.

I decided today to talk about setting goals for our family history research. I’m not talking about anything wild and vague, as often seems to be the case with New Year’s Resolutions, but I do always think of New Year as a fresh start, so for me this seems like a good time to be focusing on goals and how to formulate them so that they’re useful and achievable.

Let me illustrate with an example from my own family tree.

I have a brick wall at one of my 4x great grandfathers: William Moss, who married in Northallerton, Yorkshire in 1800 and died, also in Northallerton, in 1827. So far I’ve used only online records to research him. I could set myself a goal that ‘This year I will break through my brick wall with William Moss’. But, well… maybe I will and maybe I won’t. It depends on how much time I can give to it, of course; but more importantly, if further records relating to his life simply don’t exist, or are hidden away in a private collection then the chances are I will not succeed in this lofty goal. It’s better, instead, to express my goal as an objective, and to indicate a series of steps I will take to move towards this goal.

Let’s start with what I already know about William.

  • His burial record at Northallerton in November 1827 gives an abode of Northallerton and an age at death of 57. If correct, this indicates a birthyear of about 1770. Of course, it might not be correct, but it’s a starting point.
  • William married Elizabeth Bumby at Northallerton in January 1800. The record indicates that this was a first marriage for both parties, and that both were of the ‘parish and township’ of North Allerton. If the birthyear of 1770 is correct, this would indicate an age of around 29 or 30 for William at the time of marriage. Elizabeth, whose baptism is known, was about 24.
  • The marriage was by Licence. Since these had to be paid for, this generally indicates some at least minimal degree of wealth. William signed the register in a confident hand, as did five witnesses. Elizabeth made her mark.
  • I have found only one child for the couple: William, who was born 4 January 1801 and baptised at Northallerton two days later. The entry in the baptism register indicates that William senior is a blacksmith. This connects with what is known about Elizabeth, who comes from a long line of blacksmiths, but based in Thirsk, about 8 miles away. Elizabeth’s uncle, also a blacksmith, was one of the witnesses at the couple’s marriage in 1800.

That’s it.
Let’s now turn this into a ‘Research Objective’ with an action plan:

Research Objective: To carry out further research into the life of William Moss, born circa 1770, parish unknown; died November 1827, Northallerton, Yorkshire, with a view to finding his baptism and parents

  1. Carry out page by page examination of the Northallerton baptismal register (digital images of original records available online at FindMyPast in the record set Yorkshire Baptisms) from 1801 to 1820, with a view to locating any additional children born to William Moss and Elizabeth née Bumby.
  2. Purchase William’s will, probate 1828, together with additional probate documents, located via search on FindMyPast. Examine for any additional information about William, his family and his place of residence.
  3. Contact Borthwick Institute for Archives regarding availability of marriage licence. This may include an age for William. If age given is 29-30, this reinforces the age given at death. Examine for any additional information not included on transcript. (Note point 11 below – possibly Marriage Licences will comes under the diocese of Durham.)
  4. Carry out wider search on FindMyPast for William Moss plus variations, using birthyear of 1770 +/- 10 years, with gradual increases in location starting with Northallerton + 5 miles, then 10 miles, then 20 miles. Note locations of Moss surname within these areas, even if there seems to be no baptism for William.
  5. Note also that William junior (b.1801) married in Kingston upon Hull in 1823 (also by Licence). Could William jr. have relocated to Hull for an apprenticeship? Note that the 1823 Licence gives William jr’s occupation as ironmonger, which clearly has connections to the father’s trade of blacksmith. Might William senior and Elizabeth also have moved there for a period of years? By September 1824 (baptism of first child) William jr and his family have returned to Northallerton, where they remain until some time after the death of William senior (who is buried on the same day as the baptism of his son’s third child.) Therefore the possibility of a family removal en masse is consistent with this (even if unlikely) and wider connections to Hull may also be explored.
  6. If William senior’s will indicates any further children other than son William, searches will be carried out for their baptisms.
  7. At this stage (at the time of writing this plan) progress is delayed pending arrival of the 1828 Will and information about the survival or otherwise of William and Elizabeth’s 1800 Marriage Licence (awaiting reply to email). However, further investigation of a more general nature can be carried out as follows:
  8. Northallerton was a parliamentary borough/ constituency from 1640. However, there is no mention in Gibson & Rogers Poll Books finding guide of the survival/ whereabouts of any Poll Books from the period prior to 1832 specifically for Northallerton. Initial investigation indicates that in Northallerton the right to vote was vested in the holders of burgage tenements, of which there were roughly 200. Might William senior have had the vote, and might any Poll Book entry provide further information regarding his residence? (Awaiting email response from North Yorks Record Office).
  9. As a Borough, might there be any Apprenticeship records? Might William senior have completed an apprenticeship in Northallerton? Or perhaps in nearby Thirsk, where his wife Elizabeth was born and raised, and many of the family are blacksmiths? Equally, might William junior have completed an apprenticeship in Northallerton or in Hull? What records exist for these three boroughs, and if any exist, how much information is provided about the apprentice’s father?
  10. The Manorial Documents Register (MDR, National Archives) indicates seven manors for the parish of Northallerton. Can a map be located to show the whereabouts of each? Can any of them be discounted as a residence for William senior, based on information on marriage record that his residence was in the ‘parish and township’ of Northallerton? (Awaiting email from North Yorks Record Office). It is noted from the MDR that most manors have a good collection of surviving records including some that could help to locate William in the township. However, the Northallerton Borough Manor records unfortunately end in 1635. No further investigation to be carried out until receipt of information from Record Office.
  11. It is noted that for some aspects of the Church of England administration, Northallerton and the former Allertonshire were part of the diocese of Durham rather than (as expected) York. Clarify which aspects, and (bearing in mind that all records so far identified as relevant to this family are lodged with North Yorkshire Records Office and Borthwick, York) whether any record sets of potential use might be found still at Durham.
  12. Only one trade directory has been located for Northallerton for the period of William senior’s known life in that place: Baines Directory of 1823. William is not included. Might any other directories have survived? In 1823 William would have been about 53 and therefore expected still to be working as a blacksmith.
  13. The GENUKI page for Northallerton has been located, also the FamilySearch page and the Northallerton page of Parishmouse Yorkshire. These will be examined for any further information.
  14. A dedicated Family History Society has so far not been identified. However, the Northallerton & District Local History Society has a website and contact details.

So that is my research objective and action plan to date. Much of it has already been set in progress and at the present time I’m awaiting information in the form of William’s 1828 probate documents, and replies to several emails. I’m unable to do more until I have that information and (I hope!) can gather further clues.

The next stage, after all of the above has been worked through, will be a visit to the North Yorkshire Records Office, which is in Northallerton. However, that would would involve a very long journey, and while working on the above I realised I have a few other ancestral lines in the North Yorkshire area, also requiring some attention. It would make sense to work on each in turn, researching the local history, jurisdictions, availability of records and so on, and preparing a detailed action plan for each for a visit to the archives, probably in 2024. This timescale allows for a thorough yet leisurely approach, and a few days in Northallerton would be very nice!

By approaching goals in this way, refining the plans as required and making notes on findings, the time is not wasted even if our ancestors’ origins are not ultimately found. It will not be a failure. At the very least in doing this we’re eliminating avenues, familiarising ourselves with what records are available and hopefully gathering a little more information. New record sets are being made available online all the time, and perhaps at some point in the future something new will turn up, and a quick refresher with notes made now could enable that new information to slot easily into place.

What about you? Have you set yourself some New Year goals for your family history research? Is there a brick wall you’d love to smash? How are you approaching it? If you haven’t previously tried setting out your goals as objectives with detailed step-by-step plans, I hope the above helps.

Here’s a to a successful year – genealogical and otherwise – for us all.

The Family Tree

Bare branches hung with Christmas baubles, lights and tiny framed photos

This month sees a sort of completion – well more of an off-the-starting-blocks, really – of a long-thought-of project: my Christmas ‘Family Tree’. I’ve had this in mind about fifteen years, ever since I bought three Victorian style photo frames for hanging on the tree. Back then the idea was to put them on my main Christmas tree, and use them for three beautiful photos of my grandma and great grandmothers. I don’t know why it took me fifteen years to do it… Anyway, during this last year the plan expanded and I’ve been seeking out suitable little frames online. I didn’t want to use the standard ‘Christmassy’ photo frame tree ornaments. I really wanted them all to be ‘of the period’ for the photo they would contain, and since they are harder to find than you might imagine, to date I have only eleven. That said, I’m very happy with how it looks, and already have plans for more frames and photos from both sides of our family. It makes a lovely addition to our Christmas decorations.

I’ll be taking a break over the Christmas and New Year period but wherever you are, I wish those of you who celebrate a Happy Christmas, and to everyone a very happy, healthy and successful New Year.

Using historic directories in genealogy research

Have you ever used historic trade and local directories to help with your family research?

The first directory of London merchants was published in 1677, and from 1734 London directories were published annually. Directories for the rest of the country started to appear from around 1760 in the cities and big towns, a little later in more rural areas and small towns. Some of the directories covered a county, a wider region, or perhaps a collection of adjacent towns. These ones may include quite small towns.

Original purpose
The primary purpose of these earlier directories was commercial, and it’s no coincidence that their appearance coincided with the Industrial Revolution. They facilitated the trade and distribution of goods, including raw materials used by manufacturers. These earlier editions were aimed at commercial travellers. They therefore included distances from each town included to the others, distances from London, the location of the Post Office, plus carriers, stagecoach connections and later, railway connections. Places of worship and important public offices are also often included.

Originally only the chief inhabitants are included: principal landowners (‘gentry and clergy’ or ‘private residents’), more substantial tradesmen and professional classes. The listings of traders followed the local worthies, laid out by trade, and in alphabetical order within each trade. Over time, directories grew to include heads of households, with alphabetical listings of individuals as well as listings by trade. Some also include alphabetical listings of streets.

As an example, Pigot’s Directory of Kent, 1824, commences with a description of the county followed by distances between the various towns in the county, and from each town to London. There then follows a separate directory for each town, the towns appearing in alphabetical order. Within each town business types are arranged in alphabetical order. For example, Chatham has Academies, Attorneys, Auctioneers, Bakers, Bankers, and so on; and within each category, individual tradesmen/businessmen are listed alphabetically, with first and last name and street. You’ll find it [here].

I find it useful to start at the beginning of the directory, get a feel for the layout, and then use the index and page number links to flip about through the books, gradually homing in on towns, surnames and trades of interest.

Where to find them
There are various ways to access the directories.

First of all, the local and family history library covering your area of interest may have original copies for you to browse – possibly even a full collection of every historic directory published for the area if you’re lucky.

Next, there is a brilliant resource available online: the University of Leicester Special Collections Online. This includes 689 directories, ranging from the 1760s right up to the 1910s.
The collection is available [here].
The example used above (Kent and Chatham) is taken from this website.

Ancestry have a good selection that is searchable by clicking on ‘Search’ on the top toolbar, then selecting ‘Schools, Directories and Church Histories’.

FindMyPast also have a good selection. Click on ‘Search’ and then ‘Directories & Social History’ to start your search.

You may also find directories relevant to your needs in the relevant town/ parish on GENUKI.
I found transcriptions of three directories for Huntington, including my 4x great grandfather Thomas Cass, who was victualler at the White Horse inn, in the (very short!) 1823 Baines Directory for that parish

You may also find directories online by Googling, or by searching directly on Internet Archive with terms “directory” + name of town. As an example, Googling ‘internet archive York directory’ led me to the 1822 Baines Directory for the whole county of Yorkshire. Within its pages I can see that my 4x great grandfather John Wade is already at his woollen draper and tailoring business at Stonegate, York. I also found two members of my Bumby family, both blacksmiths, along with their addresses in Thirsk.

There may also be transcripts available from the family history society relevant to your area of interest.

That’s a lot of possibilities to work through!

How can directories help us as family historians?

  • First, from a local history perspective, it’s interesting to note what businesses were needed in the various towns, how these might vary from town to town according to location, and how this changed over time.
  • After 1841, they are a useful check-in for the years between the census, alongside addresses and occupations given on Births/ Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths/ Burials/ Cemetery records. Any one of these might add just a little more information that the others don’t have.
  • They can also be used to help locate people in the census if they are elusive. You might be able to search by address rather than name, or even find the correct Enumeration District and virtually ‘walk the route’ until you find your people.
  • Before 1841, they provide valuable information about trade and actual address. Usually, the abode on parish registers is the name of a village or area of town, rather than a specific address.
  • You may be able to use this new information in conjunction with contemporary maps to locate your ancestor physically within the town and its facilities.
  • If the individuals are in a town or city with Guilds and apprenticeship records, these should tie in with the trade being practised. I found that one of my 4x great uncles in York had changed his occupation. Having been apprenticed as a printer, he went on to become a bank clerk.
  • Here’s an interesting one: I recently read that many of our female ancestors were recorded in the census as doing ‘Unpaid domestic duties’ in the censuses not because it was the reality, but because census enumerators only enquired about the waged occupations of male heads of households. As an example, the 1851 census for Keswick recorded no landladies, whereas the Directory listed sixty-nine. (Steinbach, 2004, p10). Prior to the censuses, and once more using the Chatham Directory (above) as an example, I found a good number of women traders. If the business owner is a female of the finer sort her first name may not be included. So we see Mrs Bagster, the Misses Burr, Miss Omer and Mrs Russell all run Academies. However, Ann Chidwick is listed as a Boot & Shoemaker, Sarah Clark as a corn chandler, and so on. This information about the women’s businesses would be difficult, even impossible, to obtain via other means, even after the commencement of the census, but certainly before it.

I hope this has given you some new ideas for expanding your research.

Susie Steinbach: Women in England 1760-1914: A Social History, 2004, Phoenix/ Orion Books, London.