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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.
Directors 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.
Content and format of Directories
Directories sometimes have maps and addresses of churches, cemeteries, courthouses, and other important locations.
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 research outlines available for each state.
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.
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 Online
DistantCousin.com is making city directories available online. This is a free online archive of city directory records and scanned images. These databases are searchable on this site. Alternately, you may peruse our collection by geographic location, below. Please note that we are adding to our collection on a regular basis. Please check back often for new databases.
The Online Historical Directories Website has listings for online historical city directories, and also includes historical alumni, business, city, county, farm, Masonic, rural, social, and other types of directories for the United States and Canada
For related records see the United States Census page.
Directories of Each State
- US City Directories
- United States Online Historical Directories
- Directory of Cities, Towns, and Regions in United States
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