Most surviving historical business and trade records in the UK are held by local archives.
From 1851 trades could be listed in the census in order of importance and these records are held at The National Archives. People often had multiple seasonal occupations. Records of seasonal, casual, or part-time work in the census are erratic, particularly the work of women and children, and in agriculture. Very general terms are sometimes used in the census – such as ‘labourer’ – making it difficult to find a person’s exact occupation.
Historical trade directories for England and Wales, 1760s-1910s
Search by business name, place or trade type in the University of Leicester’s collection of online local and trade directories for England and Wales from the 1760s to the 1910s. Arranged by county, the collection includes at least one directory for every English and Welsh county.
City and county directories across the United Kingdom, 1766-1946
Search by business name, business owner, place or trade type in the collection of commercial, trade and residential directories, 1766-1946 at Ancestry.co.uk (£).
Business indexes of Britain, 1892-1987
Search by place or business owner in these Business Indexes, 1892 – 1987, a collection of published book entries listing shopkeepers, businessmen and women, industrial magnates and their companies at Findmypast.co.uk (£).
Each shop or company is described in short detail, often accompanied by a photograph of it or the proprietor, along with details of when and from whom the business was acquired. Family members working in the business are usually listed too.
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
Records in other archives and organisations
The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.
Browse GENUKI for a list of occupations in the UK and Ireland, with sources of further information for each.