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 records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • British Library

      Search the British Library online catalogue for histories of British companies.

    • Records held locally

      The National Archives' catalogue has details of collections held by over 2500 archives across the UK. Search our catalogue using keywords, you may need to refine your results using the filters.

  • 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 use our catalogue to search for records of businesses held in local archives or look up the contact details for a business repository using Find an archive.

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.