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Business & Company Records

Nature of Source

Records dealing with the legal status of a company such as annual returns and other records dealing with daily operations such as staff records, wage books, memos and company minutes. Also look for mentions of a company in the records of business associations and trade groups and consult newspaper articles and the trade press for mentions of a company. Look for sources such maps, photos, sale particulars, trade cards, trade catalogues, staff magazines and press adverts for information on a company.

Early company formations were created by an act of parliament or by royal charter. As the demand for company formations grew in the 19th century, parliament was unable to cope with the increase in workload so a new system of state registration was initiated in 1844. From this date Companies House assumed responsibility for company registration and holds records on all currently trading companies as well as companies that have ceased trading in the past 20 years. Company records earlier than 20 years are transferred to The National Archives, however much of this material has not been kept.

It is likely that company and business records could have been destroyed or lay scattered amongst numerous repositories. Most coal and rail records are held at The National Archives as are the records of other nationalised industries.

See also
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Occupational and Labour Records

Where Found

The National Archives (BT 31, Files of Dissolved Companies; BT 41, Files of Joint Stock Companies Registered under the 1844 and 1856 Acts; BT 253, Board of Trade: Register of Business Names, 1917-1982)
British Library (Business information)
Parliamentary Archives (Companies created by royal charter or by acts of parliament)
Borthwick Institute/University of York Library & Archives Collections include the Vickers Instruments Archive)
Business Archives Council (The council aims to promote the preservation of business records of historical importance)
India Office Collections (The India Office Records houses records from the East India Company, the Board of Control, the India Office and the Burma Office. The Collections holds most of the baptisms, marriages and burials for the British in India, 1698-1968 and the career details of the administrators and military personnel employed by the company. Begin by searching the biographical card index of over 250,000 persons compiled by staff members from the mid-1970s onwards but note that the index contains less than 10 per cent of all the available sources. Free training sessions in using India Office Records are organised by the APAC Reference Services team every month)
County Record Offices (Material deposited with local archives such as staff magazines, trade catalogues and annual reviews)
London Metropolitan Archives (Business and employment archives. The holdings include plans and photographs, rich sales, advertising and employment records covering City-based companies involved in industries such as shipping, commerce, finance, stockbroking and insurance, especially fire insurers. For a complete listing see the guide Unlock the riches of the archives of London commerce and trade with the world - A-Z business listing)
Guildhall Library (Business Records at Guildhall Library, including the collection of annual company reports and shareholder lists originally held by the London Stock Exchange as their annual report library)
Companies House (Details of currently trading companies contained on the official register as well as companies that have ceased trading in the past 20 years)
Bodleian Library
(Marconi Archive with an online archive catalogue. The archive contains objects and documents that record the work of Guglielmo Marconi and the wireless telegraph company he founded. Objects from the archive are kept in the Museum of History of Science. Also see the MarconiCalling website which explores Guglielmo Marconi's life, his scientific discoveries, the impact of wireless and the development of modern communications)
Company archives
LSE Library, also known as the British Library of Political & Economic Science (Business History)
The Science Museum Library and Archives (Archives and records of companies and famous individuals involved in the fields of science, engineering, medicine or industry. Of particular interest to family historians is the trade and company catalogues, adverts and trade magazines as well as the alphabetical indexes of British patent specifications dating from 1617 to 1992. The library also hold the archives of the Chartered Institute of Transport. The site hosts an online catalogue and a research guide for family historians)
The Modern Records Centre/Warwick University (Sources for Business History)
National Maritime Museum (Shipping companies)
Museum of Science & Industry (Information Sheets on topics relating to the collections including companies, people, places and objects))
Tyne & Wear Archives Service (Collections includes shipbuilding records)
Sheffield Archives (Steel industry records of over 100 iron and steel businesses, relating to production, finance, directors and shareholders, sales and marketing, workforce, legal matters, photographs and company magazines. A number of images from the Local Studies Library are available online at Picture Sheffield)
National Records of Scotland (Company registrations from the Registrar of Companies dating from the 1840s, details of dissolved companies and other collections of business records. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
Glasgow City Archives (Business Archives of local businesses both large and small)
Glasgow University Archive Services (Scottish Business Archive. Together with the University's own records the organisation is also the guardian of Scotland's business and industrial history. The archives mainly includes records of Scottish business and industries such as banking, retail, distilling and shipbuilding)
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) (Collection of business records and details of dissolved companies in Northern Ireland)

Period Covered

1500 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Names, addresses, occupations, family relationships, schools, colleges & universities attended, careers.

Further References

Foreman, Carol. Glasgow Shops: Past and Present: Birlinn, 2010
Goodall, Francis. Bibliography of British Business Histories: Gower, 1987 (Preview available from Google Books)
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Jeremy, David (ed). Dictionary of Business Biography: A Biographical Dictionary of Business Leaders Active in Britain in the Period 1860-1980: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1984  
Orbell, John. Tracing the History of a Business: The History Press, 2009  Buy Now on Amazon
Probert, Eric. Company & Business Records for Family Historians: Federation of Family History Societies, 1994  Buy Now on Amazon

TNA Research Guides:
Business history records held in the UK
Companies and businesses: further research
Mines and mining

Websites (Sources for Business and Industry) (Looking for records of a business) (Looking for records of a person in business and trades) (Business Archives Council: The objects of the Council are to promote the preservation of business records of historical importance) (Business Records at Guildhall Library) (Museum of English Rural Life. Archives include records of  agricultural organisations and cooperatives and accounts of farms across England)
(The National Archives Advertising Showcase: Images and artwork inherited from Stationers' Hall consisting of paintings, drawings and original photographs, commercial labels and advertisements, covering the Victorian and Edwardian era)
The Sainsbury Archive (The Sainsbury Archive documents the history of Sainsbury's from its foundation in Drury Lane in 1869. Also visit the Collections Online website, Story of a Supermarket) (House of Fraser Archive: Catalogue of the store’s archive which is held at Glasgow University Archive Services. The site includes a Brief Summary of Company History) (British Steel Collection: The project aims to preserve and catalogue the British Steel archives previously held in storage) (Marks In Time: Marks & Spencer company archives and history of the company)
(P&O Heritage: The site highlights the history and the collections and archives of the P&O shipping line as well as the companies acquired by the group over the years. The archive is on permanent loan to the National Maritime Museum with an appointment required to view documents in person. The site hosts a number of Family History Research Guides and an online database of nearly 2,500 P&O ships)
BT Group Archives
(The archive houses the records of BT plc which includes all the telegraphy and telecommunications businesses associated with company going back to the mid-19th century including staff establishment books, staff magazines, photos, and information on old telephone exchanges. The archive holds a near complete set of UK telephone directories from the first in 1880 to the present. The directory listings also include businesses and companies and were issued every two years. BT directories are available online at An appointment to use the archive must be arranged prior to a visit. The archive catalogue can be found at The BT Digital Archives is a online research resource and archive catalogue, containing digitised photographs, reports and items of correspondence preserved by BT from 1846) (Lloyds Banking Group Archives)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A], National Register of Archives [NRA) (Archives Hub: The Archives Hub provides online access to information about the collections found in UK universities and colleges and a number of research institutes and museums. The catalogues contain the whereabouts of collections generated by individuals, families, or organisations. The records consists of archive material and not printed matters such as books and journals. The catalogue is not comprehensive of all the holdings of the participating institutions. The site has a list of contributors to the Archives Hub with an overview of the organisation and their holdings) (The Business Index: Index to British shopkeepers, businessmen and women, 'captains of industry' and their companies provided in association with the Society of Genealogists. The Society has partnered with to publish online record sets from its unique collection. For more information on the available records see here. Members of the Society will be able to view these records for free at SoG Data Online via their existing membership) (UK Companies House Directors 2002-2013. Registers of UK directors whose companies are registered with Companies House) (GOV.UK: Get information about a company. Online access to free company information including registered address and date of incorporation; current and resigned officers; document images; mortgage charge data; previous company names and insolvency information) (Ireland, Guinness Archive Index, 1824-2002. This database contains an index of details about Guinness employees extracted from personnel files)
(The London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazette. Search and browse corporate insolvency and personal bankruptcy notices)
Scottish Archive Network (Online catalogue covering archive records but not printed material of 52 of Scotland's archives. The site also includes an extensive links page, a Knowledge Base and other research tools. The catalogue includes the catalogues of the National Archives of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland. The material covers business and society records and family and estate papers but not those held in private hands or in solicitor's offices) (Scottish Business Archive: Collections of business records covering the whole of Scotland and beyond dating from the 18th century to the present) (British Library Newspapers Catalogue: Whereabouts of company/staff magazines and trade journals) (National Library of Scotland Online Catalogues: Whereabouts of company/staff magazines and trade journals) (Copac library catalogue: Whereabouts of records) (Search the Directory of Directors Collection 1897-1946) (Family and Business in North-west England, 1760-1820 project: Records of 3000 small businesses between 1760 and 1820 online mostly relating to Manchester and Liverpool. Searches can be carried out via name, business or historical document) (London Merchants of 1677)

CD Roms

S & N Genealogy Supplies (The Directory of Directors 1936)
Stepping Stones (The Directory of Directors 1936)