Talk:United States Directories

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Why Use Directories?

  • 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.

Potential Content

  • An alphabetical listing (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).
  • 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.

Finding Directories

  • Place Search -- Family History Library Catalog
  • Search city and county.
  • Predecessor record: minutes of town meetings incl. lists of inhabitants.
  • Finding aids:
    • 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.
  • Websites
    • Identifies directories by place and gives repository and call number (incl. FHL film numbers).
    • Transcriptions of city directories from 18 states.

Search Steps

  • 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
    • Occupations 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:
    • More name handles.
    • More relatives at same address.
    • More occupations.
  • For blank forms you can use to extract information from a directory, see

What to Do Next

Directories serve as springboards to other records:

Church records

  • To narrow down the 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.

Land records

  • Directory listings often mention whether the resident is an owner, renter, or boarder. If owner, see land records!

Works Referenced

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. <>. 19 March 1998 (Accessed 27 August 2002).

Hinckley, Kathleen W., C.G.R.S. Skillbuilding: Analyzing City Directories. <>. May 1996 (Accessed 27 August 2002).

Morgan, George. City Directories. <>. 6 March 1998 (Accessed 27 August 2002).

Primary Sources -- Directories. <>. 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.