Monday, June 05, 2017

In Praise of City Directories

This week got off to a great start with me finding the 118 page probate/estate packet of my 3rd Great Grandfather.  I began reading over it last night and there is just so much information included.  I haven't even gotten half way thru and I'm seeing the names of all of his children, land descriptions and as this was before emancipation I've also found information pertaining to slaves which were hired out.  It lists their names and ages.  One in particular was a rather odd given name.  Consulting a directory at for the family I was able to find a gentleman by the same name with the last name of our family. Not sure that it is the one listed in the probate info but is likely a nephew or son.  I found additional census listings also that contained the names mentioned in the probate file. I had worked with directories in my research on another case which I blogged about this past year.  Each time I use them I find even more information or uses. These tidbits are things that you might not expect to find.  If you want to know how the Country, State, County or City was run--just look in the directory for the city in question.  Below is a listing in no particular order of the things that I have found in a city directory.

  • Tax Laws specific to the publication year and area covered.
  • Occupation--sometimes it also lists place of employment
  • Females listed as "widow of.."
  • Maps--a variety
  • Election schedules & Elected officials
  • Business Directory--gives you an idea of what is booming in that area at the time.
  • Index to Advertisers--businesses that paid to have an ad listed.  The earlier ones can be really interesting. (One advertisement for a Sanitarium located in Nashville said that they could cure any addition but that they only took refined patients.)
  • Streetcar/Railway schedules.
  • Any number of stats for larger cities as well as a history of the area
  • Religious & other Societies and Associations
  • Listing of Local Churches

Friend and fellow genealogist, Miriam Robbins has been addressing this point for a number of years.  In addition to her Online Historical Directories site and blog she has also started a Facebook group on the topic.  More information about all of these can be found in her post at her AnceStories blog.  In my opinion city directories are just as valuable to a researcher today as they were to area residents at their time of publication. Their value is illustrated in this warning printed inside the cover of one of the Nashville Directories.

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