United States Occupational Information in Directories (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course US: Occupational Records  by Beverly Rice, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Record Types

More choices and options for locating information about Occupations.


Researching in Directories for occupations can be a “gold mine” of information or as little as locating an individual in time and place.

There are many different types of directories including:

  • ŸCity Directories Ÿ
  • Professional Directories Ÿ
  • Business Directories Ÿ
  • Law Directories Ÿ
  • Medical Directories Ÿ
  • Civil and Military Service Directories Ÿ
  • Post Office Directories

Each different directory has its own particularities of research, repositories, and information available concerning an individual’s occupation.

If you have not used Directories before then you will need to review one of the following:

Skill building: Analyzing City Directories: Kathleen W. Hinckley, CGRS, From OnBoard - Newsletter of the BCG (Board for Certification of Genealogists), Volume 2, Number 2 (May 1996).

Pfeiffer, Laura Szucs, Hidden Sources, Family History in Unlikely Places, Orem, Utah, Ancestry Publishing, 2000.

Remington, Gordon Lewis, “Research in Directories”. In The Source A Guidebook of American Genealogy, revised edition, edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. Salt Lake City, Utah. Ancestry Incorporated, 1997.

The City Directory is a very valuable tool for researching the occupation of an individual. The individual listings coupled with the business section or a separate Business Directory can assist the researcher in locating the name of a specific business in which the individual worked. This could lead to employment records and other useful sources.

As with the census records, the city directory anchors a person in a specific time and place. This will allow the researcher to:

  • clarify family lore with more accurate information
  • focus their research to a specific area
  • focus on a specific business or occupation

City Directories have been available for many of the larger cities since the beginning of the nineteenth century and for some cities even earlier. It will require a thorough search, as described in the first section, of different repositories to access all available records.

These records are located in many different repositories or online:

Family History Library (a “Title Search” on the FamilySearch Catalog for “city directory” returned 3259 titles or search by location for directories available in a specific area)

Library of Congress Online Catalog (a “Keyword Search” for “city directory” returned almost 10,000 titles)

Public Libraries (an example: an online search of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, for “city directory” returned 612 titles, not all in Hamilton County)

State Libraries and Archives

Local and State Historical and Genealogical Societies

Heritage Quest by ProQuest online (a fee site available often through public libraries) (the researcher will need to use a combination of the searches to fully use this program)

US GENWEB, some county sites have extracted the city and business directory information

As with all record records the original (or microfilm copy) should be searched, an index or extraction has the potential of error. Also the original will offer the researcher the opportunity to evaluate all the information not just what the individual who created the index or extract thought you should know.

The Cincinnati City Directory[1]yielded not just the listing for the family of Henry Pearce but also a picture of the Pearce’s Factory with what looks like a possible residence behind the factory.

Business Directories

This directory can come in many forms:

1. as a portion of the City Directory
2. as a separate publication
3. for a specific industry

When separate from the City Directory, this publication often encompasses a large or regional area. This was a paid advertisement, and the businesses wanted to influence the largest area possible.


  1. The Cincinnati Covington, Newport and Fulton Directory for 1840 Comprising the names of households, heads of families, and those engaged in business, together with the State or Country of their birth by David Henry Shaffer; p 312-13 (Cincinnati, Ohio: J.B and R.P. Donogh, 1840


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Occupational Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.