Tuesday, June 26, 2007

City Directories: The Introduction

City directories are a wonderful resource for genealogists. I've written about them before in the way of an introduction but now I'd like to continue my series with a more in-depth look at the kinds of information you can get from a city directory. Today we'll take an initial look at the information available in city directories and how you can use it in your genealogy and family history research.

Using my R.L. Polk City Directory for Detroit, 1925-1926 as a reference, I'd like to start with the Introduction. In this directory, the Introduction is on p.7. I have no idea what the first 6 pages consisted of as they are missing from my copy. The Introduction is brief, covering only one page.

The page starts out with a brief description of the directory, indicating that it is 2,670 pages in length (yow-za!). Then it goes on to give a brief history of the city of Detroit including some raw data about the geography, commerce, and population. Detroit's growth is evident in the numbers given... in the year 1900 it was 28. 75 square miles in size; in the year 1925 it had grown to 139 square miles! The population of Detroit and the surrounding area in 1900 was 374,000 but by 1925 it had grown to 1,561,437! If your immigrant ancestors came to Detroit during that period of time you can imagine the social, economic, and industrial growth they would have seen. Most likely it would have been greater than anything they might have witnessed in their homelands.

The Introduction goes on to list the sections of information in directory including: A general index, Statistical Department Report, a Chronology of Detroit from 1669-1925, and miscellaneous information such as federal, state, county, and city executives, lighting, public welfare, recreation, city plan, city boundaries, churches, commercial organizations, schools, banks, hospitals, railway and bus routes, newspapers, parks, etc. The next section is a Buyers' Guide consisting of advertisements, followed by the alphabetical directory of names of citizens, firms, and corporations. Then comes the street and avenue guide of householders and the classified business directory. The final section consists of classified business directories of some surrounding cities (Birmingham, Ferndale, Lincoln Park, Redford, Dearborn, and Royal Oak, Michigan as well as Windsor, Walkerville and Ford City, Ontario).

So this Introduction page teases us with just a bit of information about Detroit and its residents. We can already see that there is a wide variety of information available about the people and businesses that made up the city in 1925-26. There are sections to look up individuals and sections to look up commercial interests. And there are sections of adverstisements that will give us a peak at the products and services available to our ancestors. And from the looks of it, there's enough history of the city included to give us great background information for writing our family histories. We're off to a good start!

In future posts this series will take a closer look at each of the sections mentioned above and how the information contained therein can be used by the genealogist/family historian.

I'd like to say thank you to Mike Clement at the Unofficial Footnote Blog for the mention of my previous article in his recent blog post. Thanks Mike! Footnote.com does have some city directories online so you might want to check there for easy access to a directory of interest to you. And I'd also like to mention that Happy Dae has an article on City Directories on the ShoeString Genealogy web site. Thanks for the comment Dae.

Coming up next: City Directories: The Indexes

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