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City Directories_More Than Names and Addresses_Syllabus

City Directories_More Than Names and Addresses_Syllabus

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Published by Jim Heddell
City directories are an incredible resource often
overlooked or neglected by genealogists. Why?
Perhaps they think “I already know my ancestor’s
names and I know where they lived. Why should I
waste time looking at a city directory when I could
be looking at other records?”
City directories are an incredible resource often
overlooked or neglected by genealogists. Why?
Perhaps they think “I already know my ancestor’s
names and I know where they lived. Why should I
waste time looking at a city directory when I could
be looking at other records?”

More info:

Categories:Types, Research, Genealogy
Published by: Jim Heddell on Oct 06, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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City Directories: More than Names and Addresses
Presented by Jason B. Harrison, CG
City directories are an incredible resource oftenoverlooked or neglected by genealogists. Why?Perhaps they think “I already know my ancestor’snames and I know where they lived. Why should Iwaste time looking at a city directory when I could be looking at other records?”This class takes participants beyond the basics of city directory research and explores the many uniqueways a city directory can be used to further genealogical research.
 MacPherson’s Directory for the City and Suburbs of Philadelphia
(1785) is consideredto be the first U.S. city directory
Early city directories were published in NewYork (1786), Boston (1789), Baltimore (1796)and Hartford (1799)
By 1860 directories were being publishedregularly in over 70 U.S. cities
Major directory publishers included Damrell& Moore, C.S. Williams, John F. Trow, JohnDoggett, William H. Boyd, and R.L. Polk 
Publication of traditional city directoriesdecreased during the mid twentieth century as phone directories increased in popularity
Directories benefited the entire community, butmore particularly the businessman. They helped himkeep track of his customers, identify potentialcustomers, and served as an advertising andmarketing medium. Businessmen also used thedirectory as a means for determining if a person wascredit worthy based on their status as a home owner.
Directory content varies greatly over time and fromcity to city. Names, occupations, and addresses havealways been an industry standard. However, mostnineteenth century directories include additionalinformation about the city and its residents such as:
Business directory
Calendar of events
Churches and ministers
City and government officials
Description of ward boundaries
Historical timelines
History of the city
Maps (most often found in microfilm copies)
Post offices
Reverse directory (listing of residents arrangedalphabetical by street and house number)
Societies, institutions, and organizations
Street directory (list of streets and intersections)
Early directories typically listed only the headof the household
By mid 1800s nearly all adult working maleswere listed
Eventually, directories included names of wives, widows and single adult workingfemales
 No handwriting to decipher (printed)
Listings are alphabetical by surname
 Nearly all adult males are identified
Printed annually or biannually
Are available for most large cities
Easily accessible on microfilm or the Internet
Identify Family Relationships
Listings may include names of spouse or children
Look for individuals with the samesurname residing at the same address
Use “Reverse” directories to identifymarried females and other unknownrelatives living at the family residence
Family often lived close to one another,so use directory maps to determine proximity of same surname households
Determine Birth, Marriage, and Death Dates
Some directories included lists of births,marriages, and deaths for the previousyear 
Entries may include a death date
Entries may note a female was married
“Widow of” notations can be used tonarrow down when a husband died
Disappearance from the directory mayindicate that a death had occurred, asingle adult female had married, or awidow had re-married
Migration Clues
Entries may indicate if a person had“Removed to” another city
Listings may include a former state or country of residence
Examine listings of neighbors for  potential migration clues
Find information about migration routes(roads, railways, canals, etc.) and modesof transportation (stage coaches, trains,steamships, etc.)
Use “Distance” tables to identify townsand cities along major migration routesand the miles between each location
Determine Religious Affiliation
Find the name of a minister listed on amarriage record in the city directory todetermine religious affiliation
Identify the nearest church by browsingthe listings of churches
Census Research Aid
Find names of other adult members of ahousehold not listed in pre-1850 head of household censuses
Substitute for the 1890 census destroyed by fire
Fill the gaps between census years
Use maps and boundary descriptions todetermine ward boundaries—thensearch the enumeration district page by page
Locate elusive individuals in the 1880,1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940censuses by using the street address provided in the directory and the “Onestep” census resources atwww.stevemorse.org 
Identify Friends, Associates, and Neighbors
When available use “Reverse”directories or city maps to identifyneighbors
Identify potential coworkers bycomparing occupations and employers
Find Cemetery Records
 Narrow the list of possible burial sites by determining which cemeteries werein existence
Use maps to locate cemeteries closest toan ancestor’s residence
Identify Contemporary Newspapers
Search listings of newspaper publishersto determine what papers were incirculation at the time
Identify specialty papers (Ethnic,Religious, Political, or Professional)
Land and Property Ownership Clues
Listings may designate “owner” of home
 Notations such as “h.” or “House” mayimply home ownership
Continuous residence at one addressover time may signify home ownership
Reverse directories generally record thename of the home owner of each address
Learn of Military Service
 Notation of military occupations(soldier, corporal, lieutenant, etc.)
May include a section with the names of local militia officers
Find listings of Civil War soldiers
Find Occupation
Use directories to learn about a person’s profession or employer then check tosee if any occupational records exist
Enhance Family Histories
Use directories to learn about the historyof a city. Often historical timelines areincluded
Find contemporary place descriptions
Extract information from advertisements
Look for photos and/or engravings of  persons, places or things
Search every year that a directory is available
Search competing directories
Always examine the table of contents to learnwhat kind of information is included
Search all known spelling variations of a name
Search at least 5 years before or after a personappears or disappears from the directory
Look for directories for cities with populationsof 20,000 or more.
Directories are susceptible to errors andinaccuracies
Abbreviations may differ from one directoryto another (“r” may mean rear, rooms, rents,resides or residence)
The title page may list the year the directoryexpired and not the year it was issued
Don’t assume that just because someone wasmissing from the directory they weren’t there
Fortunately librarians, archivists, historians,collectors, etc., recognized the value of citydirectories and took measures to ensure that theywere preserved. Today, researchers can access printand microform copies of directories at manylocations including:
Local, state, and university libraries
County and state historical societies
State and national archives
Library of Congress
Family History Library
Allen County Public Library
American Antiquarian Society
The Family History library has an excellentcollection of city directories available in print andmicroform. For details about the collection searchthe Family History Library catalog atwww.familysearch.org. For best results, do a “Placenames” search. Be sure to check all jurisdictions(town, city, county, and state). City directories arelisted in the catalog under the topic “Directories.”
Several helpful finding aids can be used to identifyand locate city directories. Use the followingresources to find out if a city directory exists:
 Printed Resources:
Spear, Dorothea N.
 Bibliography of American Directories Through 1860
. Worcester,Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society,1961. (FHL book 973 A3s)Contains a listing of all known city directories published prior to 1860 with references torepositories where the items can be found.
City Directories of the United States Pre 1860Through 1901: Guide to the Microfilm Collection
.Woodbridge, Conn.: Research Publications, 1983.(FHL book 973 E43c)
Picks up where Spear’s bibliography left off.The guide is arranged alphabetically by nameof city (first entry is for Akron, Ohio), andthen chronologically by year. Each entrycontains year of publication and full directorytitle. A helpful index at the back of the book lists all the cities in the collection grouped bystates.Family History Library.
 Directory of United StatesCity Directories in Book Form at the Family History Library
. Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of JesusChrist of Latter-day Saints. Family History Library,1988. (FHL book 973 E43d)Although outdated, this register is still avaluable resource for determining what citydirectories are available at the Family HistoryLibrary in print format. Many of thesedirectories are housed in “High Density”storage on the B1floor and are not currentlylisted in the catalog. To retrieve materialsfrom “High Density” storage see the libraryattendant at the Access Services window onthe B1 floor.
Online Resources:WorldCat 
(www.worldcat.org). Search thecollections of over 10,000 libraries worldwide todetermine what directories exist and to figure outwhich institutions have holdings. Use interlibraryloan services to access far away materials.
City Directories of the United States
This website
attempts “to identify all printed, microfilmed, and

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