Scottish Post Office directories

About the directories

The publishers

The earliest of our directories were compiled and issued by private publishers such as John Tait for Glasgow or Peter Williamson for Edinburgh. Such publishers would often gather information through their work in registry offices, housing agencies, the police, or print houses.

For smaller towns and more rural areas, the directories continued to be published privately way into the 19th and sometimes even the 20th century.

However, for larger towns and cities they would soon be published by the Post Office, with the first volume for Edinburgh being issued in 1805 and for Glasgow in 1828.

By the late 19th century the Post Office became the major publisher and the directories are nowadays generally referred to as Post Office directories, whether issued by the Post Office or private publishers.

The Post Office usually collected the information for the directories through its letter carriers, who issued forms to be filled in when they delivered the mail.

Who was included

The directories' coverage of people varies strongly between the different publishers and local areas.

Most of the directories up until the mid 19th century would only include the principal inhabitants of a location, leaving the poor in particular unmentioned.

Women rarely featured in the lists, as usually only the head of a household would be recorded.

In addition, people usually had to pay a small fee to be recorded in the directories. While the gentry, clergy, major tradesman, manufacturers, shop owners and other professionals are likely listed, their employees or small traders and craftsmen are often omitted. Laborers and servants are hardly recorded at all.

There are exceptions, however — for example the extensive lists of farmers for Perthshire or female householders for Forfar.

Geographical coverage

While the early directories were only issued for a few major towns, by the mid-1800s they covered almost all Scotland. They not only listed towns and their suburbs, but also reached further into the counties.

Towards the end of the 19th century, publishers such as Isaac Slater started to produce national directories, including all Scotland in one book.

However, most of those volumes concentrated on alphabetical lists of businesses only, and did not include a general or street directory.

Alphabetical lists

The main characteristic of the directories is their general directory — an alphabetical list of a place's residents by their surname.

This makes it very easy to search for people without having to know where exactly they lived. In many cases these lists also record information on each person's profession and address.

In addition, most of the directories published after 1850 or so — and especially those for larger towns and cities — list people alphabetically by their address and profession. These street directories and trade directories are of immense help researching professions or the development of streets and their occupational structures without having to know individuals' names.

To a large extent, the general, street and trade directories include entries for the same people, simply arranged differently. You can therefore use them for cross-referenced research, starting with broad information before going into detail or vice versa.

If, for example, the general directory revealed that an individual was a hat maker, you could use the trade directory to identify how many other hat makers were registered at the same time. The street directory would also show which other professionals worked or lived in the same street as the hat maker you found in the general directory.

Other content

Over time, information vital to the local community was included in the directories along with a street directory and trade directory.

Varying from smaller communities to large cities, this information could be lists, descriptions and statistical details within some or all of the following:

Not always up-to-date

When searching the directories, bear in mind that, depending on the publisher and time, some publications might have drawn their information from previous years or other publications. This increased the risk of not always giving the most accurate or up-to-date picture.

As well as this, the information was gathered over several months, and residents might well have moved, changed their business or died by the time the directory was printed.

Most directories published by the Post Office contain short notice addenda, errata or corrigenda to try to overcome this problem.

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