Directories have been published for various Illinois cities and counties since the 1830s, 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, employed household members, and their occupations and 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 that lists a person if he 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.
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.
Resources for Wisconsin Directories
Libraries and Archives
The Wisconsin Historical Society has the a collection of city, business, occupational, and other directories of names.
- Fold3.com ($) has Milwaukee City Directories 1861-1892 (3 yrs. missing) available online.
- Ancestry.com ($) has Wisconsin directories available online in its U.S. City Directories collection.
The Family History Library
The Family History Library has directories of heads of households for some major cities of Wisconsin. The Library has directories for:
- Wisconsin Historical Society
- US City Directories This web site identifies printed, microfilmed, and online directories and their repositories.