Directories have been published for various Kentucky cities and counties since the early 1800s, though they may not exist for every year. Some directories focus on the businesses or occupations of an area, while others include heads of households, landowners, and voters.
City and county directories are similar to present-day telephone books and are useful records for locating people. They were often published annually, listing heads of households and employed household members, their occupations, and their addresses. They can be used with census records or as substitutes for them.
Directories are particularly helpful for research in large cities, where a high percentage of the people were renters, new arrivals, or temporary residents. In fact, 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. Most households were included because the directories were created for salesmen, merchants, and others interested in contacting residents of an area.
Directories have other clues that may require careful study to discover. For example, people in similar or related occupations were often relatives, in-laws, or friends. A year-by-year study of directories may reveal the movements of ancestors and relatives within the city and sometimes to or from other cities.
The Family History Library has directories from throughout the state of Kentucky. Many were published as county directories listing inhabitants of major towns in the county. Rural directories collected information on farmers, dairymen, and other rural residents.
The following are representative of the city directories in the Family History Library Catalog:
Louisville (Kentucky) City Directories. Woodridge, Connecticut: Research Publications, 1980–1984. (On 57 FHL films, beginning with 1376990) This directory includes the years 1861 and 1864 to 1935.
Lexington (Kentucky) City Directories. Woodridge, Connecticut: Research Publications, 1980–1984. (FHL; films 1759869–74, 1376974; fiche 6044043–6) This directory includes the years 1806 to 1935, but many of the directories for the earlier years are missing or were never published.
City directories also exist for Covington and Newport from the mid-1800s to the 1930s. Some of them are published with Cincinnati directories. During these years Covington was more populous than Lexington.
Directories pertaining to the state of Kentucky include:
Kentucky (State) Directories. Woodridge, Connecticut: Research Publications, 1980–1984. (FHL fiche 6044020 [set of 8]) The directory includes the years 1859 to 1860 and is arranged alphabetically by city.
For a directory to Kentucky businesses, see Kentucky Places and People: R.L. Polk & Co.’s Kentucky State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1895–96, mentioned in the "Gazetteers" section of this outline.
Multiple-city directories exist for some Kentucky cities and their neighboring cities in adjacent states, such as:
Gardner and Gaines. Business Directory: Of Bowling Green, Hopkinsville, Russelville, Clarksville, Woodburn, Franklin, Gallatin & Glasgow for 1876–77. 1876. Reprint, [Franklin, KY: Simpson County Archives, 199–]. (FHL book 976.9 E4g; fiche 6111317) This directory is arranged by town and then by occupation and alphabetically by name.
The Family History Library, Kentucky Historical Society, Filson Club, Kentucky Room at the Lexington Central Public Library, University of Kentucky, and other Kentucky repositories have collections of city and county directories.
Many groups have created directories of their organizational structure and members or personnel. Companies may create directories of their subscribers. The directories that were published for public distribution are the ones most likely to find their way into libraries and archives. Typical examples of directories that may be found in an archive are city directories, telephone directories, church directories, occupational directories, farmers directories, or rosters of society members. These directories may range in scope from local to international. Often the most recent edition of a directory is the only one an archive will have available.
Current telephone directories can also be found on the Internet and may help you find living relatives. The Family History Library has compact discs that incorporate telephone directories for most of the United States. See the "Directories" section of the United States Research Outline for more detailed information on these directories.
To find directories, consult the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
KENTUCKY, [COUNTY]- DIRECTORIES
KENTUCKY, [COUNTY], [TOWN]- DIRECTORIES