Directories and Almanacs

Family history is often all about tracing where people lived because until you hold this information it can be very difficult to locate their records. This is particularly the case when your research takes you into the pre-civil registration era and you have to rely on parish and town records for material.

One of the most effective ways of tracing members of a family, especially tradesmen, is through searching directories. Many small businesses needed to ensure the public was aware of their activity and one of the better ways to do this in an age before media domination was via a directory.

Directories were published for many large towns from about 1800 although some earlier ones exist in the UK. Originally their market was aimed at commercial travellers so that they could find potential clients. Hence they are collectively known as commercial directories. A few decades later such publications were expanded to cover smaller towns and rural areas. These directories generally provided a brief description of each town or place covered, a listing of prominent residents and of the various tradesmen. Eventually directories were published annually. As the nineteenth century progressed directories became more and more comprehensive and some adopted the name almanac to emphasise this greater range of material. By the early nineteenth century, the general public were invited to list private addresses for a small fee. With the advent of various technologies, new directories were created to assist users. The advent of postage stamps saw the introduction of post office directories and the telephone service was soon supported by telephone directories, many of which date from the 1880s.

There are other types of directories available to researchers apart from commercial directories. The concept of specialist directories grew from commercial directories towards the latter part of the nineteenth century. Crockfords Clerical Directories for the UK that lists all Anglican priests is an example of such a directory, but many trades, professions and organisations produced such directories.

The regional coverage of directories can vary too. Town and community directories were common in the earlier years but these largely gave way to provincial and national directories as lines of communications developed.

Often knowing a person’s occupation will open up a new range of records to the researcher. If their trade was one that required an apprenticeship, then you can expect to find a range of records relating to the appropriate trade. For example, the master weavers of Paisley were members of the Weavers Guild and that organisation maintained extensive records on the lives of their members and their families from cradle to grave. Such craft guild records can be found all over the UK usually in public libraries and record offices.

Family history is more than genealogy because the compiler looks to develop a full picture of an ancestor’s life. Searching through directories can develop a history of residency. For example Julius Gilmour Jaunay migrated to Australia from France in 1876 and settled in Melbourne where was soon recorded in commercial directories but he disappeared well before he died in Queensland. By looking at Queensland directories we can follow his latter working life but a gap remains. Searching NSW directories reveals he spent some fifteen years of his career working in Sydney. Visiting the premises he lived and worked in can give the researcher an idea of his socio-economic background, suggest which local church he worshipped in and generally reveal his local environments.

1883 Melbourne - Gilmore Jaunay–Somerset Place 32 Docker Street Rd
1884 Melbourne - Julius Jaunay–74 George Street East Melbourne
1886 Melbourne - Jules Jaunay–New Street Brighton
1891 Victoria PO - Jules Jaunay–22 Fitzgerald Street Sth Yarra
1899 Sydney - JG Jaunay Bookseller–556 Erskine St
1900 NSW PO - Gilmour Jannay–Ivanhoe St Marrickville
1901 Sydney - Gilmour Jannay–Ivanhoe St Marrickville
1902 Sydney - JG Jaunay–28 Belmore St
1903 Sydney - G Jaunay–121 Elizabeth St east Ashfield
1904 Sydney - G Jaunay–121 Elizabeth St east Ashfield
1905 Sydney - G Jaunay–121 Elizabeth St east Ashfield
1906 Sydney - G Jaunay–1291/2 Pitt St Redfern
1907 Sydney - JG Jauncey [?]–12 Pearson St Balmain
1910 Sydney - JG Jaunay–5 Clifton St Balmain
1912 NSW PO - Jules Jaunay–Drummoyne Ave Drummoyne
1913 NSW PO - Jules G Jaunay–Seymore St Enfield
1914 NSW PO - Jules Jaunay–Croydon Ave Enfield
1920 NSW PO - Mrs Jules G Jaunay–Waterloo Rd Bankstown
1924 Queensland - Jules G Jaunay–Rhyde St Toowoomba
1925 Queensland - Jules Jaunay–James St Toowoomba
1926 Queensland - Jules Jaunay–James St Toowoomba
1927 Queensland - Jules Jaunay–James St Toowoomba
1928 Queensland - Jules Jaunay–James St Toowoomba
1930 Queensland - Jules Jaunay–James St Toowoomba
1931 Queensland - Jules Jaunay–James St Toowoomba
1933 Queensland - Jules Jaunay–James St Toowoomba
1934 Queensland - GJ Jauney–335 Margaret St Toowoomba

Directories are an essential element in dating nineteenth century photographs as photographers usually included their address on the back of the mount. Because professional photographers of the era often changed address as they jockeyed for the best commercial site in the main street, using a directory can often tie down the date of a photograph to a precise year.

Nineteenth century commercial directories contain a wealth of information that can place an ancestor in their environmental context. Examine the advertisements to see the products available for purchase and their costs. Would your ancestors have been able to afford such commodities? Examine the coach and rail timetables and mail schedules to determine the places linked to the family’s community. These lines of communication may be good indicators of internal migration.

For the family historian it is important to understand how directories were compiled and this may indicate how good was its coverage. It is useful to be able to compare directories compiled by different publishers in the same place to get an idea of coverage. For UK directories you have the added advantage of comparisons with the censuses from 1841.

You could expect the large companies compiling directories over many years to produce a better coverage given their resources. How the directory was compiled varied greatly. The most reliable method would seem to be the process whereby every householder was approached by an agent. Some publishers simply delivered circulars, or took details only from subscribers. Some of the earliest directories relied on the lists already published by other parties, even when these were clearly out of date, or continued to publish old listings in revised editions.

Who was included may be rather hit and miss. As a child I can recall the visits of the agent for Sands & McDougall’s SA directory. They certainly were not annual although the directory was published every year. Some directories charged a fee for an entry and this meant the poor were not listed. Women are also under-recorded as the lists were for householders.

Although many directories have a general alphabetical section, publishers were always more interested in tradesmen, manufacturers and merchants who tended to be concentrated in the larger centres rather than the small regional towns.

In using directories, the researcher faces a number of other problems other than an awareness of their shortcomings. The first is to determine if a directory exists for the location of interest. In this regard, the UK is well ahead with two helpful resources:

  • Shaw, Gareth and Tipper, Alison; British Directories: A bibliography and guide to directories published in England and Wales (1850–1950) and Scotland (1753–1950), 1988
  • Norton, J; Guide to the National and Provincial Directories of England and Wales, excluding London, published before 1856, Royal Historical Society, 1950

The best sources of the equivalent Australian information can be obtained by searching the appropriate State Library online databases. Government archives and family history societies may also hold copies.

Once you have found a directory existed, you then have to locate a current copy. In Australia this result would have been generated when you searched the catalogue.

If your search is over a person’s lifetime, you could be faced with searching a large number of directories and they may be located in distant repositories. In the case of the UK, the first step is to search the web site known as Historical Directories.

Historical Directories is a free digital library of local and trade directories for England and Wales, from 1750 to 1914 produced by the University of Leicester. You can access this collection at

The site contains high quality searchable reproductions of comparatively rare books, essential tools for research into local and genealogical history.

Archive CD Books Australia programmed digitising of Australian directories and almanacs presented on fully searchable CDs is a significant project to allow users powerful access to directories. When the above list for Jules Jaunay was compiled in the 1970s it meant travelling to the State Library and trawling through numerous but incomplete runs of directories, state by state and the search restricted to the general index. The project by Archive CD Books Australia means that a simple name search will cover the whole directory, and if the user has the full set available, the full set. Archive CD Books Australia is working towards a complete run of digitised directories for every Australian state and New Zealand. The progress of this work can be followed by maintaining a watch on their website.

A number of major libraries hold full or partial sets of Archive CD Books Australia products.

Adelaide Proformat holds a full set of Archive CD Books Australia’s material and can undertake an Australia-wide search on your behalf, if you do not wish to purchase the full range of directories currently available. This service is available online at

Archive CD Books Australia’s international partners also produce directories and other material for the UK, Ireland and North America. For those with English and Welsh origins The Universal Directory of Great Britain 1791 originally produced by Archive CD Books Great Britain is an important resource even though the listings are restricted to tradespeople.

This article was compiled by Graham Jaunay for Archive CD Books Australia. It may be reproduced by societies with acknowledgment of the author and Archive CD Books Australia. Plus notice of your intention to use it and a copy of the finished article or journal it is published in.

Further Reading

Some guides to directories and almanacs

  • Australian Almanacs 1806-1930: A Bibliography—Morrison
  • Tracing Your Family History In Australia—Vine Hall
  • Bibliography of New South Wales Local History & New South Wales Directories 1828-1950—Eslick, Hughes & Jack
  • Brisbane History Group papers No. 7—Archives and Approaches II, Chapter 9, Directories to People Places and Patterns in Queensland since 1868—Fisher
  • South Australian History Sources—Chapter 17, Directories, Almanacs, Electoral Rolls & Telephone Books—Peake
  • Street and Trade Directories—Audrey Collins (article in Family History Monthly No 87, December 2002)