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Talk:United States Directories

Why Use Directories?Edit

  • 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 ContentEdit

  • 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 DirectoriesEdit

  • Use the Place Search in the Family History Library Catalog. Search city and county.
  • A related record which preceded city directories is minutes of town meetings including lists of inhabitants.

Finding aidsEdit

  • 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.


  • Identifies directories by place and gives repository and call number (incl. FHL film numbers).
  • contains transcriptions of city directories from 18 states.

Search StepsEdit

  • 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. They 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. This yields more name handles, more relatives at same address, and more occupations.
  • For blank forms you can use to extract information from a directory, see

What to Do NextEdit

Directories serve as springboards to other records:

Church recordsEdit

  • 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 recordsEdit

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

Works ReferencedEdit

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.

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