Collecting Directory Information

Today a group of four volunteers from the Town House have gone down to the Brighton Local History Centre to identify and photograph the street directory pages for Pelham Square and Kensington Place.

To put it in the simplest terms possible, the process for collecting directory information for MHMS is: (1) Choose a street and the years to be researched (2) Retrieve the directories from the library shelves (3) Take photos of pages containing the entries for the street that is being researched (4) Load and organise the photos onto a computer (5) Read the image files and type the lines of text data into our special Microsoft Excel documents.

This may seem like an involved process but it really is rather simple.

For illustrative purposes, let’s focus on Pelham Square. The Square was first developed in the mid-19th century, so it has been around for approximately the last 160 years. We make use of published directories dated up to 1975, which means that there are potentially 125 years of directories that must be reviewed. However, an analysis of the Brighton History Centre’s Directory holdings reveals that they have publications for approximately 90 of these years. Pelham Square has historically had around 25 properties associated with it, and it is a reasonable assumption that these addresses will usually be covered on a single page in a directory.

Therefore, to complete Pelham Square, we will need to find and open 90 different directories and take photographs of approximately 90 pages. We use a stout tripod and time delayed exposures to get decent photos in the relatively low light conditions found in the History Centre. The camera itself is very ordinary, an old 3Mb nikon set to ‘fine’ quality, so that the .jpg images we take are a couple of thousand pixels wide. We have found that using high-resolution images makes the text easier to read when using the images for screen-based research. However, the trade-off is that the file sizes are a bit larger (2-3MB).

One thing that is key to success is organisation. We have found that creating a detailed checklist is an important way to ensure that the status for all the directories can be checked - have we taken them off the shelf, photographed them, etc.. Naming the image files something meaningful is also beneficial. By creating a convention for naming files, the file names can then become a useful way to determine what year and directory are contained in the image. For instance, a photo of a page from an 1859 Pages Directory for Pelham Square may be named by the camera as DSCN8819.jpg but we would rename the file to a meaningful name such as 1859PagesPSq.jpg.

From our experience of processing the Pelham Square directories, we have found that it takes three or four people a day or two to open, document, and photograph the required material. For a longer street with 40-50 houses, such as Kensington Place, the process takes two to three days.