Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What's In A City Directory?

A city directory can be an outstanding resource for both genealogists and family historians. R. L. Polk published city directories for many U.S. cities starting back in the 1870s. These directories are available in public libraries in print and on microfilm and in some instances online. They have massive amounts of information in them including residential and commercial listings for each building in a given city.

The directories actually have a cross-listing of information. So you can look up a person's name and get their address or you can look up a street address and find the name of the person or business occupying that address. What's more you can also find the names of other occupants in a multi-unit building or all of the neighbors living on the same block as your ancestor. And while the U.S. census was taken only once every 10 years, city directories were for the most part published annually (many were not published during WWII). So they are very good resources for tracing residential moves in the years between censuses.

I've used city directories many, many times in the course of my personal genealogy research but it wasn't until I purchased one that I realized just what a valuable resource they are. They are so much more than just an aid to locating residents and businesses. In the next few weeks I'll be taking a closer look at the very rich resource city directories are and examining their value/use to genealogists and family historians. Stay tuned... you may just learn a thing or two ;-)

I'll leave you with a list of few major cities that R. L. Polk has published directories for:
Ann Arbor, MI
Baltimore, MD
Boston, MA
Buffalo, NY
Chicago, IL
Cincinnati, OH
Cleveland, OH
Columbus, OH
Denver, CO
Detroit, MI
Grand Rapids, MI
Indianapolis, IN
Kansas City, MO
Memphis, TN
Milwaukee, WI
Minneapolis, MN
New Orleans, LA
New York City, NY
Philadelphia, PA
Pittsburgh, PA
St. Louis, MO
St. Paul, MN
San Antonio, TX
San Francisco, CA
Washington, D.C.

There are many more of course. May I suggest you check the web site City Directories of the United States of America for a much more extensive listing.

Read my series of articles about city directories:
I Won the eBay Bid
What's In A City Directory
City Directories: The Introduction
City Directories: The Indexes
City Directories: The Statistical Department
City Directories: Chronological History
City Directories: Miscellaneous Information
City Directories: Directory of Names
City Directories: Street Guide and Directory of Householders
City Directories: Classified Business Directory
City Directories: Additional Information

2 comments:

  1. Great post, Jasia! I, too, love using city directories. Our genealogy society had a speaker a while back who taught us a many handy tips for using them in genealogy. Here's some things I learned from her:

    Many city--and rural--directories were microfilmed by the LDS Church are available for rent for a small fee through your local Family History Center.

    Don't be disheartened if you can't find your ancestor in a city or rural directory. Often ethnic minorities or those who were not employed (the unemployed, retired, inform, or homemakers) were left out of the directories. This was because directories were marketed toward businesses who would use them to attract potential customers.

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  2. City Directories are often overlooked by beginning researchers and they are nearly everywhere. I've written a presentation on them and you can read it on my web site ShoeString Genealogy and it is free. Add City Directories to your list of resources!

    Happy Dae.

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