Tuesday, August 14, 2007

City Directories: Additional Information

City directories have a lot to offer genealogists and family historians as is evident by the numerous posts I've been able to write about them. In this the last post of this series we'll take a look at the last few pages of the directory and I'll share with you some of my personal thoughts and observations about city directories. Using my R.L. Polk City Directory for Detroit, 1925-1926 as a reference, immediately after the Classified Business Directory section are additional pages for a handful of communities (suburbs) around Detroit. These pages are "Classified Lists of Representative Firms". The first of these lists is on p. 2649 and the pages run through p. 2659. The communities included are: Birmingham, Dearborn, Lincoln Park, Redford, and Royal Oak, Michigan as well as Windsor, Walkerville, and Ford City, Ontario (all three Ontario cities are on one page).

The companies listed on the pages in this last section of the book have almost certainly paid for inclusion. The listings are not uniform as they were in the previous section but interspersed with larger more obvious ads. But commercial listings are not the only reason to look for these community classified ads. At the beginning of each page there is a paragraph describing the community that provides some good information. For example, let's look at the entry for Dearborn:

Population, 4,000. Located on the River Rouge on the M.C.R.R. and D.U.R. (electric), Dearborn Township, Wayne Co. 10 miles west of Detroit. Was settled in 1795 and named after Gen. Henry Dearborn, commander of the American forces at the outbreak of the War of 1812. The town was incorporated under the name of "Dearbornville", later changed to Dearborn. Detroit arsenal was located at Dearborn in 1820. Incorporated as a village in 1893. It maintains Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, German Evangelical, German Methodist Episcopal, Presbyterian and Christian Science churches, a modern high and public schools, also parochial. It has a new Public Library building containing 10,000 titles, 2 banks with capital and surplus of $400,000 and deposits of $3,400,000; hotels, a weekly newspaper, The Press, and a weekly magazine "The Dearborn Independent", electric lights, water and sewage system. The Ford Motor Co's executive offices are situated there. The Stout Metal Airplane Co. is situated in Dearborn Township just outside the village and maintains a flying field illuminated at night and has erected an aircraft mooring mast. St. Joseph's Retreat, a health resort under the auspices of the Sisters of Charity, is situated in Dearborn. A fine golf course has recently been added to the village's many attractions. Trolley and motor bus connecting direct with Detroit every twenty minutes.


I must admit I found parts of this entry amusing. Even though I was born in a hospital in the city of Detroit, I grew up in Dearborn. I don't have any recollections of St. Joseph's Retreat though there is a historic designation sign for it at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Outer Drive in Dearborn. It's referred to here as "a health resort"... this had me chuckling. It was an asylum for the insane. The link I put in above goes to a RootsWeb page that shows some postcards of the building which was torn down in 1963. But I digress. The entry on this page certainly gives a good synopsis of the community that Dearborn was at the time. Each page in this last section gives a similar synopsis of a community (except for those in Ontario) all of which are now known as Detroit's oldest suburbs.

So the thing to take away from this last section is that you may find some interesting tidbits of information on your ancestors' community even if the one they lived in didn't have a city directory of its own... provided it was located near a big city that did have one.

In conclusion then I'd like to mention a few things I haven't touched on in this series but you might appreciate knowing. The first thing is that this is one BIG book! My copy weighs 14.5 lbs. I don't think it was too much after this edition that Polk started publishing the Detroit directory in 2 volumes each year, a west side book and an east side book. I can understand why they needed to do this. This book's size makes it a bit of a challenge to deal with. My advice to anyone who might be thinking they'd like to do some directory research and photocopy what they find is to consider taking a digital camera instead. Make it easy on yourself. You don't want to be turning this baby upside down over and over again to make copies. Or consider viewing a directory on microfilm if you can. That would be easier as well.

Another thing I'd like to mention about using city directories is that the print is very, very small. I highly recommend taking a magnifying glass with you when you plan to access one. Even if your eyesight is good, your eyes will have to strain to read this print for very long.

I have to say that I love my city directory. If you were a reader of my blog back in March of this year you may remember my excitement over having won an eBay bid to buy it and then lamenting how much it cost me to get it. I must say it was well worth the money I paid for it. Not only has it been helpful to have the directory at my fingertips when I want to look something up, but it has also provided me with an emotional link to my ancestors. As I've mentioned in a previous post, all the homes of my ancestors, their schools, their neighborhoods, and even some of their churches cease to exist. I can't stroll the streets where my ancestors lived and imagine what their lives were like (not without a loaded weapon and my doberman anyway). But running my hands over this old book is like reaching out and touching their world. The names of their neighbors, the stores they shopped at, the streetcar lines they used, the parks they visited, the companies they would have seen advertisements for... it's all right here whenever I want to walk the streets of their world in my mind and in my heart.

I hope you've learned something about city directories from this series of articles. It's been my pleasure to share them with you.

My complete series of posts on this topic:

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

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