Each record includes a brief transcript and an image of the original document. To gain the most from these records, it is best to view the image. The details in each entry will vary but most will include:
As you can see, for reasons of space, the entries use many abbreviations. Some (such as b for born) are self-explanatory but others are less obvious for the modern reader. Use Findmypast's Kelly's Handbook glossary available in Useful Links and Resources, to get the most out of each entry.
The first incarnation of Kelly’s Handbook called The Upper Ten Thousand: an alphabetical list of all members of noble families was published in 1875 and, as its name suggests, was a rather exclusive publication. From 1878 this became Kelly’s Handbook of the Upper Ten Thousand. The final name-change to Kelly’s Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes came in 1880, made even more explicit the emphasis on the upper crust and endured until 1973.
There were rival publications such as Debrett’s Peerage (first published 1769), Burke’s Peerage (first published 1826) and Who’s Who (first published 1849). Debrett’s Peerage, like Burke’s Peerage is a genealogical guide to the aristocracy – Burke’s was an in-depth guide whilst Debrett’s included a brief history of each titled family. Debrett’s now also produce etiquette guides whilst the Burke name has been bought by investors and will continue only in an online capacity.
Who’s Who began by listing just the names of MP’s and Bishops but soon began to include biographies, widening its reach to include lawyers, judges and eminent figures from the world of the arts. Entries in Who’s Who, unlike the other Directories, are made from questionnaires filled in by the subjects themselves. Once a person is included they remain so for life meaning something of a reluctance to include figures from popular culture for fear of their relatively short spells in the public eye. Who’s Who is now also available online.
Unlike the Directories, the Handbooks weren’t specific to regions but covered the good and great of the entire country. The Handbooks contained biographical information for the notable people listed therein.
The roots of Kelly’s Directories and Handbooks can be found in the publication, in 1799, of the first edition of The Post Office London Directory. In 1835, Frederic Festus Kelly was appointed His Majesty’s Inspector of Inland Letter Carriers and took over the production of the London Directory, which took his name. Kelly began producing provincial Directories soon after, ultimately covering every city, town, village and parish.
The company’s name changed accordingly to Kelly & Co Ltd in 1882, later becoming Kelly’s Directories Ltd in 1897. Kelly was also the curate of St Giles Camberwell from 1880-1915 and was the father of Rose Edith Kelly, who later married the occult writer and poet Aleister Crowley. The Kelly family can be seen living at The Vicarage in Camberwell in the 1891 and the 1901 census.
The popularity of the directories declined throughout the 20th Century and Kelly’s has now moved into a different publishing medium – it now takes the form of an online business search website.
The Directories and Handbooks themselves are a thoroughly useful aid for family historians looking to trace ancestors in the nobility or titled classes or indeed those in trade and industry.