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United States Directories
Why were Directories Created
Directories were created for salesmen, merchants, and other interested in contacting residents of an area. They are arranged alphabetically giving lists of names and addresses. These often list the adult residents of a city or area.
The most helpful directories for genealogical research are city and county directories of local residents and businesses. These are generally published annually and may include an individual's address, occupation, spouse's name, and other helpful facts. An individual's address can be very helpful when searching an unindexed census of a large city.
Read an excellent article about directories on the New York Public Library blog.
Why Use Directories
- Directories are particularly helpful for research in large cities, where a high percentage of the people were renters, new arrivals, or temporary residents.
- A directory may be the only source to list an ancestor if he or she was not registered to vote and did not own property.
- Learn the exact years your ancestor inhabited a place.
- Locate ancestor in a census that hasn’t been indexed (esp. state census).
- Estimate year of immigration.
- Learn occupation and employer as identifiers
- Find other family members.
- An alphabetical listing of inhabitants (arranged by name, address, and occupation).
- A street address listing (arranged by address, name, and occupation).
- Widows, working women, and adult children at home.
- Ward maps.
- Street locator, including cross streets.
- Street name changes.
- Removals (sometimes destinations!).
- Businesses (and index to advertisers).
- Addresses and maps of churches, schools, funeral homes, cemeteries, post offices, courts, hospitals, benevolent associations, newspapers.
- Many early directories listed only businesspeople.
- Some directories list wife in parenthesis.
- Whether a woman is a widow (including name of husband).
- List of marriages and deaths of previous year.
- Death date.
Time Period of availability: Directories have been published usually annually (yearly) since the early 1800's. City and county directories are similar to present day telephone books and are useful records for locating people.
Local public and university libraries generally have directories for their region. The Library of Congress has the largest collection of city and county directories.
City Directories on the Web
- DistantCousin - a free, searchable online archive of city directory records and scanned images.
- United States Online Historical Directories- identifies historical city, county, business and other directories available online on both free and pay-to-access websites.
- US City Directories - identifies directories by place and gives repository and call number (incl. FHL film numbers).
- City Directories of the United States. New Haven: Research Publications, Inc. 1971-
- City Directories of the United States, 1860-1901: Guide to the Microfilm Collection. Woodbridge, CT: Research Publications, 1983
- Spear, Dorothea N. Bibliography of American Directories Through 1860. Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1961.
Directories at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has a comprehensive collection, City Directories of the United States, reproduced on microform by Research Publications. This includes 336 cities and regions from the late 1700s to 1935. The pre-1860 city directories are on more than 6,000 microfiche. Directories for 1861 to 1935 are on 1,118 microfilms. These and other directories are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under
- [STATE], [COUNTY], [TOWN] - DIRECTORIES
You can find further information about city directories in FamilySearch Wiki pages regarding each state. For example, search Ohio directories for information about directories of Ohio.
Some directories list only certain types of businesses, professionals, clergymen, alumni, or other special groups. These are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
- [STATE] - DIRECTORIES
- [STATE] - OCCUPATIONS
- [STATE], [COUNTY] - DIRECTORIES
- [STATE], [COUNTY] - OCCUPATIONS
There are also special directories that can help you locate libraries, newspapers, churches, ethnic associations, government officials, and other organizations or offices.
Directories by State
- Check the beginning of the directory for cutoff dates, geographical coverage, and the meaning of abbreviations.
- Check alphabetical listing or residents to find known ancestors.
- After finding a known ancestor’s address in the alphabetical listings, check the street address listing to find unknown ancestors at the same address.
- Directories list occupants (not necessarily owners).
- Major cities: Check town or county histories for outlying towns later absorbed by a city.
- Minorities were often listed separately.
- Others at your ancestor’s address may be boarders.
- Pay attention to occupations. They can give you an extra “handle” by which you can identify your ancestor in another record. If an alphabetical listing says your ancestor is “Asst. to John Doe,” see what John Doe does for a living.
- Streets were renumbered. If your ancestor’s address changes, see if his neighbors’ addresses change correspondingly.
- Second marriages: If a widow is listed at an address, then replaced by a man the next year at that address, check marriage records!
- Find ancestor in all available directories. This yields more name handles, more relatives at same address, and more occupations.
- For blank forms you can use to extract information from a directory, see www.tpl.toronto.on.ca/localhistory/directories4.html
What to Do Next
Directories serve as springboards to other records:
- To locate church records to search for an ancestor, use directories to find addresses of churches near your ancestor’s residence.
- If you have a marriage certificate naming the minister who performed the marriage ceremony, find his listing in directories to learn the name of his church.
- Directory listings often mention whether the resident is an owner, renter, or boarder. If owner, see land records!
- Egan-Baker, Maryan. "U.S. Census & City Directories: The Dynamic Duo." Utah Genealogical Association Conference. Salt Lake City, Utah, 13 April. 2000.
- Gormley, Myra Vanderpool, C.G. City Directories: Windows on the Past. <http://www.ancestry.com/columns/myra/Shaking_Family_Tree03-19-98.htm>. 19 March 1998 (Accessed 27 August 2002).
- Hinckley, Kathleen W., C.G.R.S. Skillbuilding: Analyzing City Directories. <http://www.bcgcertification.org/skillbuilders/skbld965.html>. May 1996 (Accessed 27 August 2002).
- Morgan, George. City Directories. <http://www.ancestry.com/columns/george/03-06098.htm?sourceid=00392187254525771865>. 6 March 1998 (Accessed 27 August 2002).
- Primary Sources -- Directories. <http://www.tpl.toronto.on.ca/localhistory/directories1.html>. 27 January 2000 (Accessed 27 August 2002).
- Remington, Gordon, F.U.G.A. "Needle in a Smokestack: Urban Research." Utah Genealogical Association Conference. Salt Lake City, Utah, 13 April, 2000.
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