Australian 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. One of the
most effective ways of tracing members of a family 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 dominated was via a directory. In
a nation lacking census returns, directories are a good
substitute for this information.
As the nineteenth century
progressed directories became more and more comprehensive
adopted the name almanac to emphasise this greater
range of material. By the early nineteenth century, the
public were invited to list private addresses. With the
advent of various technologies, new directories were created
to assist users. The concept of specialist
directories grew from commercial directories towards the
latter part of the nineteenth century. Crockfords Cerical
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.
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
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 afford such commodities? Use 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. 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
Who was included may be rather hit and miss and they were
not always current. As a child I can recall some visits
by the agent for Sands & McDougall’s
SA directory. They certainly were not annual visits although
the directory was published every year. A few directories
a fee for an entry (although the vast majority relied on
sales for their income) and this meant the smaller businesses
were not listed. Women
as the lists
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.
can be located by searching the appropriate State Library
online databases. Government archives and family history
societies may also hold copies.
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.
Select the region and year to find the directories available to researchers.