Trade directories and databases

This guide was last updated in 2009

Trade directories may list your ancestor under their selected trade. Most commonly produced annually (and, therefore, able to give you a much fuller picture than the census), these directories often included street listings, which will help you to establish the length of time that your ancestor spent in one place.

Try local studies libraries or county archives for relevant directories. The Guildhall Library in London also houses an impressive collection from all over the country. To search online, visit the University of Leicester’s Historical Directories website.

The Historical Group of the Royal Photographic Society has published a number of directories listing photographers working in several different towns and cities in the 19th century, which can be viewed at Some of these listings are also available online: or

There are also sites devoted to photographers working in particular counties or cities; for example, Sussex, Brighton and The Isle of Man. A particularly useful resource can be found at photoLondon which offers a database of 19th century photographers and allied trades in London: 1841-1901. This database offers approximately 9, 000 biographical entries on photographic companies and the people who worked within the photographic industry in London.

Directories of photographers working in London and Lancashire, compiled from information in trade directories, have been published in book form – A Directory of London Photographers 1841-1908 by Michael Pritchard (PhotoResearch, 1994); Lancashire Professional Photographers 1840-1940 by Gillian Jones (PhotoResearch, 2004).

If you have managed to discover a business address from examining census returns and trade directories, it might be interesting to visit the site and see what has happened to the premises. It could be that the building has long since disappeared under a car park. However, you might discover that the shop-front is still intact. If you are very lucky, there might even be some clue as to its original use – ‘daylight’ photographic studios often had glazed extensions on the top floor.

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