The ‘Sands’ of Time; – Directories and dates – it’s earlier than you think!
When researching the whereabouts of people, or the first appearance of a building or organisation, directories are one of the most used and useful resources. However, it should be born in mind that events listed in an historical directory edition were almost always those of the year before the year name of each edition. Sands Directories with their long and almost continuous run from 1858 to 1932/33 illustrate this very well, once the process of actually compiling them is understood.
In the Preface to the first Edition (1858/59) of the Sydney Sands & Kenny’s Directory, published in June 1858, (see above), it is explained that since collecting the material, there had been delays in publishing it, so most of the listings were probably gathered in the previous year, 1857.
The publication month for each new yearly edition was generally January, with the ‘cut-off’ date for listings around October of the previous year. At that point, the ‘canvassers’, as the collectors were called, sent in their listings to the head office; these were then collated, type set, printed and bound, ready for distribution as the Edition of the following year, with that following year’s date. So every event listed refers to the status quo of the previous year, up to about October. This explains why some people are still listed in the year of their death – and were sometimes even listed in the Edition after that, if the canvasser was less than careful when updating their previous year’s list.
Similarly, all those named in official positions were actually the officers of the previous year, except for the most eminent Government positions. The publishers of yesteryear’s Directories have left us a wonderful resource – but if only they had brought out their new Editions in December each year, and not the January of the following year – it would have saved us a lot of confusion! This back-log effect also applies to local authority Rates & Assessments’ books.
So if you have fallen into this all too common ‘time warp’ of directory dates when writing up your researches (as I did until the penny dropped), try amending your directory and rates sourced dates; you might find that people being in a certain locality a year earlier than you thought may give some more significant reasons for who did what and why, when related to other known events!