Thursday, May 27, 2010

City Directories - have you revisited this record group?

At our usual Tuesday night live chat in Second Life this week, we discussed the use of historical city directories as a resource ripe with info for genealogists. City directories began to be kept for major US cities in the early 1800s, long before the use of telephones. If you want to determine if your ancestors continued to live in a specific place between federal and state census enumerations, city directories provide a ready reference.

Quite by accident, Ol' Myrt here ran across this particularly telling page from the Des Moines, IA 1897 City Directory Page 543 posted online at (Click image to view a larger version of the image.) While not every directory is as forthcoming, researchers can expect to find residents in alphabetical order, including addresses and occupations. However, then following entries are even more forthcoming:

  • Stone A D Mrs, died Feb 5, 1897.
  • Stone Thomas A, moved to Panora, Ia.
  • Stoner Almira P (Wid Abraham), res 933 Walker.
  • Stookey David J. grocer 1500 e Grand ave. res 1448 Capitol av.
Note in the last example, "res" is the abbreviation for residence and that the grocer's business address is listed in addition to his residence. Other abbreviations include:
  • bkpr = bookkeeper
  • carp = carpenter
  • lab = laborer
  • plstr = plasterer
  • rms = rooms
  • wks = works


Hopefully, you are convinced of the value of city directories, so now it is a matter of locating them. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
  • originals in local public library, where your ancestor lived
  • originals in regional or state archives, where your ancestor lived
  • microfilm or microfiche copies at the Family History Library, available through local Family History Centers (over 4,700 directory titles, with multiple years are part of the collection)
  • FamilySearch Wiki (specify city directory to obtain info about directories beyond US borders)
  • digital versions online at (specify city directory, also includes non-US directories); DistantCousins (also helpful info about research); GenealogyToday (some listings require membership, some reference other websites), to name a few.
  • Google Search (specify city directory)

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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