Thursday, August 02, 2007

City Directories: Miscellaneous Information

Miscellaneous information... such a broad subject heading and yet it best describes this section of the city directory. It's jam packed with useful information for genealogists and family historians. Some of it will be helpful with ancestor research, much of it will provide detail for those writing up their family histories or writing historical fiction. Using my R.L. Polk City Directory for Detroit, 1925-1926 as a reference, let's take a look at the types of information presented in the Miscellaneous Information section which begins on p. 81 and runs through p.144.

Miscellaneous Information starts off with a subsection on City Government which lists the name of the Mayor (in this case, John W. Smith) and other city officials, members of Common Council, the Board of Educators, the Board of Fire Commissioners (including the location of engine companies), the Department of Health, the Department of Police, and the Department of Public Works to name just to name a few of the departments. The subsection ends with information that is definitely important to genealogists researching ancestors in Detroit... New House Re-numbering System.

In all, there are 32 subsections within Miscellaneous Information. I can't go into detail on all of them here but I would like to highlight a few that I think would be of particular interest to genealogists and family historians.



  • WARD BOUNDARIES - Includes a detailed description of the streets that make up the various ward boundaries within the city. Helpful when you have an address for your ancestor but can't find their census record by name. You need to know the ward boundaries to do a "reverse lookup" by address instead of by surname (on Ancestry.com for instance). This subsection also includes polling places so you can look up where your ancestor voted... family historians can include this information in family histories.

  • CEMETERIES - Includes a list of all the cemeteries within the city at the time the directory was published. Good to know if you're trying to narrow down the cemetery your ancestor is buried in.

  • CHURCHES - Listed alphabetically under a variety of denominations, addresses are included.

  • HOSPITALS, HOMES, SANITARIUMS AND CHARITABLE INSTITUTIONS - If your family passed down the name of an orphanage or institution where a family member resided this would be an excellent place to start your research. All facilities listed have addresses included.

  • MOTOR BUS LINES - Fun facts to know when writing the family history or a historical novel... how did grandma get across town to visit her sister?

  • DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOLS - look up the name of grandpa's elementary school, the name of the Principal of each school is given too. So if you wanted to relate a story about gramps getting sent down to the Principal's office you can accurately name the Principal!

  • SOCIETIES, CLUBS, ASSOCIATIONS, BUREAUS, CHARITABLE AND CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS, ETC. - If you remember hearing that great-aunt Sophie belonged to the Polish National Alliance, you can find out where the meetings were held here.

  • STREET RAILWAY LINES (aka Street Cars) - Did the street car line run right smack dab down the middle of the street in front of your mom or dad's house? Here's where you can find out :-)

So often we get caught up in "going back one more generation" in our ancestor research that we overlook all the detail we could find about the generation that grew up right here. This is wonderful, colorful stuff to know about your ancestors, folks. Next time you have access to a city directory think about how much more information you can find besides just the location of your ancestor's house.

I know, I know, you still want to find out where Uncle Jozef and Aunt Malgosia lived. Well that's coming up in the next segment...

Coming up next: City Directories: Directory of Names

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

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