Advertising poster for J. Henderson & Sons Sunderland ferry, 1892 (Catalogue reference: COPY 1/103/f227)

This is a brief guide to researching records of a business. Business records are wide-ranging and can sometimes be patchy. Not all records survive. Most are available from local archives, online or from the British Library. This guide will help you gain a general overview of the main sources of the information that exists, and where to find it. This guide is for people interested in business as opposed to those interested in finding a specific person.

  • What records can I see online?

    • Live registered companies

      For basic information, search the Companies House website by company name or number for a company in the United Kingdom.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

    • Books

      Consult published Stock Exchange Yearbooks from 1875 onwards to track a company, the growth of a sector or the state of the economy as a whole.

      Read Bibliography of British Business Histories by Francis Goodall (Ashgate, 2005).

    • Websites

      Browse the Historical Directories website for a business in the 18th, 19th century or early 20th century.

Did you know?

Most business records are kept in local archives, if they survive. You can search the Business Index in the National Register of Archives (NRA) or look up a business repository in ARCHON.

There are three types of incorporated companies: registered companies, chartered companies and statutory companies.

Not all businesses are incorporated as some businesses are not companies.

Business records can include the following:

  • dates of incorporation and dissolution
  • annual reports, accounts and correspondence files on staff and clients

Many local libraries and archives have copies of trade directories from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries which can be useful when trying to trace a business' exact location or existence. These do not tend to have any information about individuals.