Discover the story of your street with trade directories and electoral registers

28 May 2020
Gill Blanchard shares her top tips on using trade directories and electoral registers in combination to find out more about the lives of people who lived on your street in years gone by.

Trade directories and electoral registers (sometimes known as voters rolls) can be used in combination to find out about a neighbourhood.

Trade directories

Early directories typically list prominent residents, landowners and tradespeople and provide short parish histories, but include few specific addresses for rural areas. They became more comprehensive over time with separate trade, commercial and street listings.

By the late 19th century, they provide a good listing of heads of household and specific addresses. County directories were last published in the 1930s, but town and city street ones continued into the 1980s. 

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Electoral registers (voters rolls)

Electoral registers date from 1832 to the present day and list every adult eligible to vote in local and parliamentary elections. Although they only provide a partial picture due to restrictions on the right to vote based on rateable and rental values, age, and gender, that in itself allows a glimpse of social changes and types of properties as the franchise was gradually expanded. 

Where do I start?

  • National Library of Scotland has a useful guide to electoral registers here
  • Explore over 700 digitised Scottish Post Office directories here 
  • Many of the big family history websites such as Ancestry and FindMyPast have digitised versions of both resources.

Gill Blanchard is a professional house historian and author of Tracing Your House History (Pen and Sword Books) et al. Find out more about her writing, research and courses on her website.

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