Tracing my Great-Grandfather in Trade Directories | The Nosey Genealogist's: Help Me With My Family Tree
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Tracing my Great-Grandfather in Trade Directories

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on September 17th, 2011

Directories1869 at TheGenealogist.co.uk

I’ve used trade directories before, when I was tracing my tradesmen ancestors down in Plymouth. At that time I’d found one enterprising forebear, of mine, who had been a Victualler and Brass founder on the 1861 census employing  one woman, six men and some boys in this Devon City. This had lead me on to use the University of Leicester’s site, Historical Directories at www.historicaldirectories.org to find him and his advertisement in a Plymouth Trade Directory. Its great fun to see how polite were the requests of a Victorian era businessman, asking for trade, in an advertisement from this time.

This week I had turned my attention to my maternal great-grandfather. In a book, complied on the family, that I was lucky enough to have found on the shelves of the Society of Genealogists, in Goswell Road, London, my ancestor was given a brief mention in between his more illustrious brother’s, cousin’s and forefather’s. What I was able to glean, from this book, was that Edward Massy Hay had been a merchant in London for a period in the 1860’s, after a short spell in the army.

The book had been complied by his Father, Charles Crosland Hay and completed by his cousin on the death of the former. It gave me a clue that all was not well in the business world of Edward, as a line simply said: “Partner in the firm of Stevens & Hay, Merchants in London; on its failure he became a tea-planter in Ceylon.”

My first reaction was to see if the business went bankrupt and was mentioned in the London Gazette. I checked the website at www.london-gazette.co.uk, where it is possible to search back through the archives for free, but I found nothing on the business. I’d read a tip that it was always worth checking the Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes, in case the bankruptcy had been hidden in one of these publications. The results came back negative and so it looks as if the business was wound up without going bankrupt.

Recently, on taking a look around TheGenealogist.co.uk‘s data sets, I came across the 1869 Kelly’s Post Office Directory for London on their site. By entering “Stevens and Hay” I was eventually able to locate their business to an office at 65 Fenchurch Street, London. EC3

Moving on, to a Kelly’s Directory for 1880 London, I found my great-grandfather listed as living in Princes Square, Bayswater, London. Also at that address was his sister, Mrs Mary Ann Webster, whose husband was in the Madras Civil Service. But I had already begun investigating the move to Ceylon (today known as Sri Lanka), by my ancestor. By 1880 he was appearing in a directory for that island, as well as at Bayswater!

From a website, dedicated to the history of Ceylon Tea (www.historyofceylontea.com), I found there are links to many years of the Ferguson’s Ceylon Directory. In 1880 Edward M. Hay was an Assistant for R.Books & Co of London, in the British Colony. He appears in several of the directories, one of which has him as Chairman of his local area’s planters association and in 1905 he was listed as the owner of a tea estate called Denmark in Dolosbage, Ceylon.

This little peep into my great-grandfather’s life was made possible by the use of various trade directories and the fact that they have been scanned and uploaded to websites on the internet. But before I turned off my computer, on a whim I decided to enter the address that he had shared with his sister in London into Google street view. I was rewarded with the Georgian fronts of Princes Square and easily found the house where he lived. It is now a small hotel and so its address is on the internet.

A search for 65 Fenchurch Street, and the offices, shows that they have been replaced by a modern vista. Lastly, I did a Google search for the Denmark Tea Estate in Sri Lanka and by chance it still exists! Using Google Earth I was able to use the satellite view to see, from the air, the hillside estate that once was where my great-grandfather cultivated tea.

It seems to me to be well worth using some of these alternative tools, available to us, when doing family history research. They may add just a little bit of flesh to the bones of facts gained from the census data or the birth, marriage and death records for our ancestors.

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  1. One other useful trick with directories is in identifying and dating photographs.

    I scanned a loose photo in my late father’s collection of a small boy on a beach at best resolution. In the background I spotted a hotel with a name and the name of the proprietor on its sign. A cross check with various Kelly’s Directories (I think I used Ancestry to do this) led me to Margate in Kent, and I was able to compare the photo with Google Street to confirm the location.

    A little further research in parallel KDs for the area also pinned the date down to between about 1910 and 1930, as the owner’s name is not there outside these dates.

    James

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