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 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. 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 of residency.
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 editions.
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 charged 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 are also under-recorded as the lists named 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.
Australian directories 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.

Click to email Proformat Subscribe