BT Teams Up With Ancestry.co.uk For Phonebook Archive

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 19 September 2006
photograph of a pile of telephone books

BT Phone Books Archive contains details from 1880 to 1984. © BT Archive

British Telecom has teamed up with web-based genealogy service Ancestry.co.uk to launch an online archive of BT’s historical phone book collection, British phone books 1880–1984.

Containing in excess of 250 million names, the online collection will enable family history enthusiasts to track down relatives and the places where they lived. The archive will also cater to the growing band of hidden-house hobbyists who are interested in learning about the previous inhabitants of their homes.

“Since their introduction in 1880 phonebooks have provided a unique snapshot of communities in Britain in a regular and familiar format, making them an ideal source for both family and social historians,” said David Hay, Head of Heritage, BT Archives.

“BT is committed to preserving the history of telecommunications and delighted to be improving access to its heritage through this existing venture.”

image of a document titled the telephone company

BT’s historical phone book collection contains a vast treasury of personal details - from the first telephone company records in 1880 through to British Telecom's privatisation in 1984. © BT Archive

The first part of this vast record, covering greater London, was launched on September 20 2006 and covers all of the capital as well as Surrey, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Middlesex. This archive alone contains 430 books and over 72 million names and addresses – amongst them old contact details of the likes of Winston Churchill and Bram Stoker.

Subscribed members of Ancestry.co.uk can search the British Phone Books 1880-1984 by name, year and county, allowing them to fill in many of the gaps in their family and house histories left by other traditional genealogy sources.

“The British Phone Books 1880-1984 Collection is an important and fascinating edition to our online records and provides family and social historians with unique 20th century information which has been very difficult to find up until now,” said Josh Hanna, Managing Director of Ancestry.co.uk.

“The partnership with BT has resulted in the vital preservation of an important family archive for family and social historians alike to use and enjoy.”

a black and white photograph of a group of women packing telephone directories

© BT Archive

Thanks in part to TV programmes like the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are, tracing our roots on the Internet has become a popular pastime. Research carried out by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) reveals that 13% of people have explored their own family’s history.

Publishing the BT Phone Books Archive, which is most complete set of phone directories in existence, represents a coup for Ancestry.co.uk who are establishing themselves as a leading proponent of family and social history research on the internet.

People can also find out about their local public archives, which contain much information about births, marriages, deaths and other sources such as film, sound and newspapers. Explore this online at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archon.

The National Archives is also currently running an Archives Awareness Campaign - find out more at www.archiveawareness.com

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