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Was your ancestor a peruke maker?

Centuries old small business records from the North West go on-line

Published on May 19th 2010.

Was your ancestor a peruke maker?

Researching family trees is almost as popular an internet sport as sex or gambling. In 2002, when the Public Records Office put the 1901 Census for England and Wales on-line, 1.2 million people attempted to log on to the site on the first day alone, immediately crashing the site.

This project, should interest anyone who thinks they might have had an ancestor working ‘in trade’ in the North West during the industrial revolution.

The main focus of family genealogists tends to be the records of births, deaths and marriages, however, there are thousands of court records, wills and business records relating to small businesses that can also give a fascinating insight into our ancestors’ lives. Up to now those records have been unavailable on line despite their being in the public domain.

However, from today, family historians in the North West will benefit from a University of Manchester historian’s project that allows these official documents along with family correspondence of the period to be viewed freely.

The project was conceived by Professor Hannah Baxter who felt that the data compiled during her research into small business families in the North West would be useful for family historians.

With technical assistance from Phil Bradbury of the Humanities ICT team at the University of Manchester and funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Family and Business in North West England, 1760-1820 project website was launched.

Professor Barker said "Eighteenth and early nineteenth-century wills and court records are publicly available but they can be hard to use even for professional historians. They are also often difficult to access.

"This database makes the information easily accessible for the first time in the North West.

"Family historians are the mainstays of most record offices and are the biggest group of historians in the country. Family history also has a massive presence on the internet.

"This project, should interest anyone who thinks they might have had an ancestor working ‘in trade’ in the North West during the industrial revolution.

"Small family businesses - such as grocers, ironmongers and wigmakers (aka peruke maker) proliferated in the North West at a rapid rate between 1760 and 1820.

"Despite their significance to the local and national economies, historical research into such firms has been limited and we know surprisingly little about how they functioned or about the people who ran them and worked for them.”

The project focusses on those involved in small family businesses such as retailers, small scale manufacturers and service providers in North West towns, mainly Manchester and Liverpool, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The database is searchable by name, business and document and contains around 3,000 records of small businesses and people with common surnames living between 1760 and 1820.

It is possible to view images of most of the documents with some being supplemented by descriptions and transcriptions to make understanding them easier.

The site can be accessed here.

Images courtesy of Chethams Library

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