Friday, August 03, 2007

City Directories: Directory of Names

City Directories: Directory of Names of Citizens, Firms, and Corporations

Continuing with my series on using city directories in genealogy and family history research, we will next look at the Directory of Names section. Using my R.L. Polk City Directory for Detroit, 1925-1926 as a reference, the name directory section starts on p. 509 and runs through p. 2014... this is a huge section, the largest in the book.

For genealogists, the Directory of Names is without a doubt the most popular section of a city directory. The street and avenue guide and directory of householders (which will be featured in my next post) would come in a close second. Together, these two sections can provide a wealth of information on your ancestors. And while they don't provide the exact same information as is found on a Federal Census form, there is some overlap of that data. Of course the bonus is that city directories were published annually (with some exceptions such as the city of Chicago, see "comments" ), making it oh so much easier to track our ancestors. Ya gotta love that!

The first page of this section is titled, "Polk's Detroit City Directory 1925-26". It then contains 4 subtitled sections of information: Abbreviations, Street Abbreviations, Abbreviations Given Names, and Abbreviations Firm Names. Unfortunately, I can't list all the abbreviations on this page in this post. But they are going to be very important to you when researching your ancestors so let's take a closer look at what kinds of abbreviations are listed. It will give you a snapshot of the type of information available to you about your ancestors.

Abbreviations This list covers abbreviated terms for the following categories: job titles (e.g. jwlr=jeweler), types of residences (e.g. apts=apartments), types of roads (e.g. Blvd=boulevard), religions (e.g. R C=Roman Catholic), and directions (e.g. se=southeast).

Street Abbreviations This lists specific street names that appear in abbreviated forms (ones with lengthy names). In my directory there are 18 street names listed. (e.g. Alexandrine Av=Alex Av)

Abbreviations Given Names This section lists the abbreviated forms for 29 first names aka given names. Besides giving you the abbreviations, this list also gives you a synopsis of popular names of Detroit residents at the time. Most of them wouldn't be found on a current list of abbreviated given names for the city of Detroit that's for sure! Some examples on this list include: Arch=Archibald, Eug=Eugene, Sol=Solomon, Theo=Theodore.

Abbreviations Firm Names This sections lists some abbreviated forms for some of the more popular businesses in Detroit in the 1925-26 time period. Sadly, a good many of these companies no longer exist. But if your family was employed at one of them or owned/managed one of them, this directory will give you at least some basic information about it. Some examples include: C M & Co=Crowley, Milner & Co, Hudson M C Co=Hudson Motor Car Co, Studebaker=Studebaker Motor Car Co.

That covers the title page for this section. Now let's look deeper into the section for a sample entry.

Poniatowski Adam autowkr h2834 Roosevelt av
" Anthony press opr r6639 Floyd av
" Frank mldr h6639 Floyd av
" John inspr h6403 Field av
" Jos clk r6639 Floyd av
" Jos lab h7184 Holmes av
" Jos soft drinks 3301 Poplar h3999 Tillman av
" Margt Mrs 3999 Tillman av
" Margt press opr r6639 Floyd av
" Walter chauf r6639 Floyd av

See where the list of abbreviations comes in handy? Let's apply them and see just what information we can glean from the entries under this one surname.
  1. [auto=automobile, wkr=worker, h=house] Information: Adam Poniatowski works in the automobile industry and lives in a house at 2834 Roosevelt Avenue.
  2. [opr=operator, r=renter] Information: Anthony Poniatowski works as an operator and is a renter at 6639 Floyd Avenue.
  3. [mldr=molder, h=house] Information: Frank Poniatowski works as a molder and lives in a house at 6639 Floyd Avenue. Anthony (of the same surname) rents in this same building and given the same surname and residence we can at least strongly suspect they are related.
  4. [inspr=inspector, h=house] Information: John Poniatowski works as an inspector and lives in a house at 6403 Field Avenue.
  5. [Jos=Joseph, clk=clerk, r=renter] Information: Joseph Poniatowski works as a clerk and is a renter at 6639 Floyd Avenue. May well be related to Anthony and Frank Poniatowski who also live at this same address.
  6. [Jos=Joseph, lab=laborer, h=house] Information: This Joseph Poniatowski #2 works as a laborer and lives in a house at 7184 Holmes Avenue.
  7. [Jos=Joseph, h=house] Information: This Joseph Poniatowski #3 works in the soft drinks industry at the location 3301 Poplar and lives in a house at 3999 Tillman Avenue. Here's where a quick look into the next section will help us... looking up 3301 Poplar we find it listed just below the street name "Tillman av", which means it's at the corner of the intersection of Poplar and Tillman streets. The rest of the entry is: "Poniatowski Jos soft drinks". It doesn't give us a lot more information to go on except that Joseph probably lived just down the street from his place of business. A lookup at GoogleMaps or MapQuest could confirm this but for now let's move on.
  8. [Margt=Margaret] Information: Margaret Poniatowski, "Mrs" isn't given as an abbreviation on the title page but I think it's probably safe to assume this indicates she's married. Given her same surname she's probably married to Joseph#3 of "soft drinks" fame who owns the house she's living in at 3999 Tillman.
  9. [Margt=Margaret, press opr=press operator, r=renter] Information: This Margaret Poniatowski #2 works as a press operator and is a renter at 6639 Floyd av. She's probably related to Anthony, Frank, and Joseph Poniatowski who also live at this address.
  10. [chauf=chauffeur, r=renter] Information: Walter Poniatowski works as a chauffeur and is also a renter at 6639 Floyd av along with Margaret, Anthony, and Joseph. The 4 of them are all renters at the home of Frank Poniatowski, probably all relations.


Whew! That's quite a bit of information from just one surname entry. But it gives you an idea about the value of using a city directory to look up your ancestors.

There's just one more thing I'd like to mention in this section of the directory and that is the last page of it. On p. 2014 there is a list of Polk's Publications. Besides the city directories they are best known for they also list their National publications: Bankers Encyclopedia (Directory) of the U.S. and Canada, Dental Register and Directory of the U.S. and Canada, Medical Register and Directory of the U.S. and Canada, the National Iron and Steel Blue Book, and Real Estate Register and Directory of the U.S. and Canada. This is followed by a state-by-state list of the city directories Polk published.

Coming up next: City Directories: Street Guide and Directory of Householders


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

4 comments:

  1. Back on 27 Oct 2006, George Morgan wrote an article on Types of Marriage Records in his "Along Those Lines" blog. In that article, George provided a great idea about how to use the Directory of Names in City Directories to find out where someone was married.

    Many civil marriage records show the name of the person who performed the marriage ceremony, but don't tell where the ceremony took place.

    By searching for the name of the person who performed my grandparents' marriage ceremony in the Worcester Massachusetts City Directory, I was rewarded with the following entry:

    Bojanowski Boleslaw A rector St Mary’s church h 15 Richland.

    How cool is that?

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  2. I like City Directories. For me they provide a timeline. Now my grandparents went from Depew, NY (Buffalo area) to Toledo, OH, to Detroit, MI. So establishing a timeline is/was essential for me.

    From addresses (Ellis Island, Census, City Dirs) I have been able to piece together other family relationships that had been forgotten or lost due to family movements.

    Three comments:
    1) Jno is abbrev for Johnathan/John [not common abbrev today]

    2) Many City Directories have a "new" section indicating who moved into the area or a new address. I once found an aunt at a home in this section that was NOT listed in the main section.

    3) I look up the street name and see who was at past family addresses before/after my family. Sometimes I find family and/or friends there as well or next door or with the last name mispelled.

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  3. Very good points, Michael. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Hi I was so glad to see that the directories are out there. If its not to much of an imposition would you please see if there is a Kurpinski, Jos in yours. I found an older version online and he was in there. Trying to backtrack family. Thanks in advance!! tcouz4@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete