The ideal ancestors for family historians lived at the same address for many years, had an unusual surname and gave accurate information to the census enumerators. Unfortunately, some of my relatives failed to meet these criteria, which meant taking another approach to locate them.
Looking down the list of the resources online at TheGenealogist shows the unique collection of directories produced by such famous names as Kelly, Pigot and Watkins, covering the whole of the British Isles. They are often referred to as trade directories, which misses the point that many also include private residents as well as local histories and maps. The earliest I spotted on the website was for London in 1677, although the more comprehensive ones appear in the early 19th Century and continue through to the 1950s. There are directories at TheGenealogist for 38 English counties, as well as Pigot's 1844 Directory for the whole of Wales, the Roll of Edinburgh Burgesses and Guild Brethren 1406-1700 and the Aberdeen Post Office directory 1923-1924, and the Official Guide to Edinburgh, c1930.
Another resource on the website contains copies of registers for schools, colleges and universities in many English counties and a couple of Scottish districts. These, like the directories, have comprehensive bookmarks to navigate the chosen register manually, though they lack the global search facility found with the directories that can check an entire volume or the whole collection. Overall, the records are patchy with, for example, Essex containing only Colchester School from 1637-1740.
One fascinating publication is the Official List of Registered Teachers for 1917 that gives the names, addresses and dates of registration of all the members of the profession. School, college and university registers are available for 22 counties in England, with dates ranging from 1220 to 1933. There are also university registers available for Aberdeen (1901-1925) and Glasgow (1728-1858).
Trade directories and school registers are currently available with Gold Premium and Personal Plus subscriptions on TheGenealogist. There are several ways to search and browse the directories and registers - to follow are some tips to help you track down your ancestors.
Starting your search
Go to 'Directory Search - Beta' on TheGenealogist's home page. Then select the county and period you are interested in, followed by the specific directory you would like to start searching.
Searching a directory uses a surname and forename, though the latter are frequently abbreviated in the text - for example Hy for Henry. Looking through the pages you can quickly see the standard abbreviations used for both forenames and trades, either of which can be used to narrow your search.
Unless you have an unusual combination of names it pays to stick with the current book initially, to limit the number of results.
Every entry that matches your search criteria is shown as a clickable link so you can quickly jump to the relevant page for each one to see whether the highlighted text refers to your ancestor.
The scanned pages of the directories are displayed using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, which also provides the tools to zoom, print, search and save each result to your hard drive for future reference.
Following the search link from a single directory to the collection, displays a list of all the counties in TheGenealogist's directories, with the number of matches to your search terms. A click on the county then shows the name and year of the directories available, again with the number of matches displayed.
From there it's easy to see the ones that cover your area of interest and check the matching entries.
If you prefer to browse the contents of a directory manually, the bookmarks can take you straight to a chosen section. These typically provide links to maps, histories, towns and villages, street directories, tradesmen and private individuals, with sections then subdivided alphabetically to get you close to the required entry.
Expand the index of a county's towns and villages and you have an alphabetical listing to home in on the required one quickly, which frequently contains a brief description and history of the hamlet as well as a list of private residents. For larger conurbations the bookmarks have more subsections.
The school and college registers use the same bookmarked interface as the directories, but without the ability to search a whole volume or the entire collection. Apart from the names and dates of the pupils, many of these registers also contain information, such as a history of the school and details of the teaching staff. With Adobe Acrobat Reader, also used for the directories, you can search, print and save the pages.
How to use TheGenealogist
TheGenealogist provides online access to many other records than the trade directories and school registers, and at the top of TheGenealogist's search page there are four tools that enable you to search quickly across the many other sets of records - including census returns, parish register transcripts and General Register Office births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales.
If your search fails to find the required person, or returns too many results, it's time to scroll down to the individial databases and all their extended search facilities.
- With the keyword search you can trawl a chosen census, parish records or post-1984 birth, marriage and death indexes.
- You can also locate a specific address within a census without having to know the names of the people living there and then view an image of a page.
- The family forename search, meanwhile, enables you to enter just the forenames of family members - with birth years, if known - to search across an entire census for a specific county.
Whatever tools you are using to trace your ancestors, it helps to know the geographical areas that are likely to yield the best results. To help you with this TheGenealogist provides a map of English and Welsh counties displaying the concentration of any surname found in each census from 1841 to 1901.
After entering the name and selecting a census year the map shows a patchwork of coloured counties ranging from green, for no matches, to black for more than 10,000. The exact number of matches for each county is also shown as a table, which, together with the map, can be printed.
With very common surnames, such as Smith, the map just confirms their widespread distribution, though with less familiar ones it becomes really useful. For instance, the name Bryant in 1841 was limited to southern English counties, with the greatest concentration to be found in Gloucestershire and Somerset. By 1901 many appear in Lancashire and Yorkshire, though Wales remains a mostly Bryant-free zone.