How to find out more about your hairdresser ancestors


15 May 2022
Learn how to delve deep into the life of your hairdresser ancestors with Mish J. Holman's guide to what local newspapers can reveal about this type of work over the centuries.

The hairdresser, or hair cutter, emerged separately from barbers at a time when wigs became unfashionable and the focus turned to wearing real hair. This led to an inevitable conflict with the barbers who felt hairdressers were competing for their business.

A reference to ‘hair cutter’ appeared in The Parent’s and Guardian’s Directory (1761) by Joseph Collyer – this ‘youth’s guide, in the choice of a profession or trade’ consigned the profession to the bottom of the trade pile since workers required ‘almost no education but compliant and insinuating behaviour’.

It was a low paid position and a trade that was considered unskilled and easy to enter due to minor set-up costs. Collyer’s guide suggests a hair cutter could charge between 6d and one shilling for cutting and curling for a home visit and between one shilling and half a crown within his own premises.

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Towards the latter half of the 18th century, London newspapers regularly carried adverts for hairdressers posted by individuals seeking a valet with the skill to dress hair or wigs, and by individuals advertising themselves offering such skills. This increased steadily throughout the next century with adverts appearing in regional newspapers as well as the main London outlets, asking for apprentices, or skilled hairdressers, notifying the public of the sale of premise or even the death of the proprietor.

Evidence from newspapers

With the abundance of notices and announcements in newspapers, it is evident that they are a marvellous resource for finding hairdresser ancestors and much can be found in the British Newspaper Archive or in the newspaper resources at FindMyPast. For the genealogist keen to discover their ancestors in context, hairdressers and their addresses are named, they appear in news stories, and they advertise for staff; consider using newspapers along with vital records, censuses and wills to build a timeline of an ancestor’s life. Whereas obituaries are often not available to us, timelines not only provide a richer view of a person’s life and career, they also help identify gaps in research.

Other resources to consider are trade directories, a number of which can be found at Ancestry, TheGenealogist and the Historical Directories of England and Wales website. Your ancestor may have listed his business and premises once he became a salon owner, or his residence if he worked from home.

Mish J. Holman has been a professional genealogist since 1996 and is founder of Family History Gifts. She studied genealogy at the University of Strathclyde and currently writes about theatre ancestors and how theatre was central to our ancestors’ communities both spiritually and recreationally.

Extracted from an in-depth article on finding hairdresser ancestors in the June 2022 issue of Family Tree magazine. Get your copy here!

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