Check tele­phone di­rec­to­ries

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - 20TH CENTURY ANCESTORS -

In the 21st cen­tury, when most of us are ut­terly de­pen­dent on our smart­phones, it can be dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how our an­ces­tors func­tioned with­out any tele­phone at all. Even as re­cently as 1970, only 35 per cent of house­holds owned a tele­phone. How­ever, you may be able to find a rel­a­tive in Ances­try’s col­lec­tion Bri­tish Phone Books, 1880–1984 from BT Ar­chives (, or in The­Ge­neal­o­gist’s col­lec­tion ‘Trade, Res­i­den­tial & Tele­phone’.

An en­try in a phone book can in­di­cate a rise in a fam­ily’s per­sonal for­tunes. How­ever, it is not just in­di­vid­u­als who are listed in tele­phone di­rec­to­ries, but also busi­nesses, char­i­ties, schools and other in­sti­tu­tions – and even if your an­ces­tors did not have a per­sonal tele­phone, they may well have used one at their place of work. In ad­di­tion fe­male an­ces­tors, whose oc­cu­pa­tions are of­ten not ap­par­ent in for­mal records, are fre­quently well-rep­re­sented in tele­phone di­rec­to­ries. And tra­di­tion­ally fe­male-dom­i­nated busi­nesses, such as milliner­ies, laun­dries, mu­sic-teach­ing and dress­mak­ing, make reg­u­lar ap­pear­ances.

A tele­phone di­rec­tory from 1960 show­ing the tele­phone num­ber and ad­dress of Sir Win­ston Churchill

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