City 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.
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.
Miriam Robbins Midkiff has created a website, Online Historical Directories Website (or simply, Online Directory Site), where she is cataloging as many online city directories as possible. The website includes other historic directories as well, such as alumni, business, and fraternal orders. Directories are organized by geography and date.