Today we are excited to introduce our first guest blogger, Emma Jolly. Emma is a professional genealogist and historical researcher (more information on her website: www.genealogic.co.uk), she is also the author of Family History for Kids. Emma has written for us about how she has found post office directories, like those in AddressingHistory, valuable whilst undertaking research and particularly focuses on those people who may not traditionally appear as prominently in the directories.
Using Post Office Directories to Research “Lower Class” Ancestors
Most family historians know how useful post office directories can be in researching ancestors of high social status or those with shops. But directories often seem less useful for investigating the lives of the working classes.
London Post Office directories are similar to those in Edinburgh and have helped me to trace owners of private schools, china shops, lawyers and senior members of the clergy. However, I have also used them to find out more about members of the working class.
Although the Private Residents section tends to include middle or upper class inhabitants, the Trades section can include workers like cabinet makers, commercial travellers or laundresses. And the appearance (or not) of your ancestors in a series of years provides an insight into the success of their business over time.
For those tracing the history of a school, the directories’ school lists are essential for pinpointing when the school opened and any subsequent name changes. Street and public house name changes can also be thus identified – useful for all in streets, and for those who either worked in or regularly visited local pubs.
The descriptions of areas of the city tell us about the nature of your ancestors’ immediate environment in that specific year. Was it ‘healthy’ or ‘populous’, rural or industrial; how many railway stations did it have, and were there any trams? What workhouses existed and where in the city were they?
My great great grandfather, William Jolly, lived and worked as an apprentice blacksmith in the Auchinblae and Fordoun area in 1861. Even though I have visited this quiet and remote region, I may never have known that it once included “a thriving modern village” without the use of a local directory [Pigot and Co.’s National Commercial Directory of the whole of Scotland, and of the Isle of Man 1837 (Kincardineshire)]. And the description of the flax mill and the weaving industry in which “the greater proportion of the industrious classes here find employment” could explain why William’s sisters were later working in a flax mill in the town of Montrose.
When trying to track a likely church for a baptism or burial for any class of ancestor, the list of churches with denominations for the relevant year can help to simplify the search. In the later Victorian years, churches were built regularly and our ancestors often shifted adherence. With a shorter list, the research should be less arduous.
A glance at the Commercial section for businesses in that street where your ancestors lived [by using censuses or BMD (Births, Marriages, Death) certificates] gives an indication of the world with which they were familiar. A street of hotels, or coffee houses; piano makers or dressmakers; schools or factories – what did your ancestors see everyday? Was there a library on the corner, long since closed, where they could educate themselves in adulthood?
I have traced Londoners of every social class within the city and to as disparate parts of the globe as Scotland, France and India. Directories are always useful in my research and if I can access them online, then, all the better.
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