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Historical Directories Help

Getting Started

To start your search, Browse by Location or enter your search term (e.g. surname or place name) into the search box at the top of the page. From the results page, use the "Narrow your search by" options to filter results by county or decade or choose "Advanced search" for a wider range of search options. Note that the default setting is for "Exact phrase" searching. E.g. a search for "Smith John" will find directories with only find entries where "John" appears immediately after "Smith".

Frequently Asked Questions

Why have you changed the way in which Historical Directories can be accessed?

The Historical Directories project was completed over a decade ago, and the software that the original site ran on has become obsolete. The digitised directories have been moved onto the same system as other University of Leicester digital collections. This offered the only sustainable solution for continuing to provide free access.

What software do I need on my computer to access the trade directories?

The Historical Directories collection of Special Collections Online should work with all standard web browsers. In order to view pages from the directories in your browser you will need to have a PDF viewer installed. Recommended browsers are Internet Explorer 10+, Google Chrome 35+ and Mozilla Firefox 30+ on PC, and Safari 6+ and Firefox 30+ on Mac. The recommended viewer for PDF files is Adobe® Reader® version 11+.

How do I search for a county?

To find all directories covering a particular county click on Browse by Location and select the area of the map or county name that you are interested in. Note that we are currently working to improve the indexing of Welsh counties.

How do I search for a directory covering a town I am interested in?

As on the previous version of the website, the directories are not categorised by town. You are therefore advised to search for the county in which your town is located.

After I have found directories for the county I am researching, how do I narrow the search by date.

On the search results page, under ‘Narrow your search by’, click ‘Period covered’ and then select the decade you are interested in.

My search has found 50+ hits in a directory. How do I find them?

Pages containing your search term are flagged in the navigation pane on the right of the screen. Scroll down the contents of the pane to find your matches.

How do I search for a person’s name, e.g. “John Smith”?

When searching for a combination of words the default setting is to search for an exact phrase. Therefore, a search for “John Smith” will find occurrences where “John” appears immediately after “Smith”. The normal format of the trade directories is for names to be listed by surname followed by a forename or initial (“Smith, John” or “Smith, J”). Some directories give an abbreviated form of a forename (e.g. Jn for John or Wm for William). It is common for women to be listed with “Miss” or “Mrs” between surname and forename (e.g. Smith, Mrs Joan). A number of searches may therefore be required to find all references to an individual. For family historians, accessing trade directories available via commercial genealogy providers may be more suited to research needs than using the Historical Directories website.

I am searching for a person within a specific town or village. Why can’t I find them?

The Historical Directories Collection consists of a large volume of unstructured and unindexed text created by a process known as Optical Character Recognition (OCR). Therefore, Advanced Searches that combine full-text searching for combinations of personal and place names will find directories containing both search terms anywhere within a directory. For example, a search for ‘Smith’ and ‘Leicester’ will find all directories containing both words anywhere within a volume. In this context, ‘Leicester’ may refer to the East Midlands city of that name, Leicester Square in London or any individual with Leicester as their surname. You are advised to follow the guidance above for narrowing searches by county and decade, and then search within the results for either a person or town. You will then need to navigate through the search results manually to decide whether the information presented is what you need.

A name or place I am searching for is not finding any matches, but I know it's in one of the directories. Why is this?

Text created from digital versions of 18th, 19th and early 20th century books using Optical Character Recognition commonly results in OCR errors. These often manifest themselves as unusual characters or similar shaped letters being mistaken for one another. This can result in unusual search results.

Does the new website permit proximity (near) searches?

No. Unfortunately this option is not currently available.

Do you have any plans to add to the collection?

We have no current plans to add new content to the Historical Directories collection.

I would like to publish all or part of a trade directory on my own website. How do I obtain permission to do this?

The Historical Directories collection is made available under the Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial). This means that you are free to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format, and can remix, transform or build upon any of the content. These freedoms are permitted provided appropriate credit is given to the University of Leicester as the owner of the data, and that the material is not used for commercial purposes. See or contact for further information.

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