People, Place, and Time

Telling my family's stories

Surprising genealogical finds in city directories

When I think of a city directory, I think of the white pages that gets left at my doorstep once or twice a year.  It has names, addresses, phone numbers.  I can look up someone in my local white pages and locate them.  It’s handy, and if you need to locate someone in a particular year — say, because the census burned, or you don’t know what year someone settled in a town — it’s a great way to do it.

But when I start looking at them, I never ceased to be amazed at what I find.  They are total treasure troves of genealogical gold nuggets; so much so that  I begin to wonder where and how the people writing this things got their information!  Just yesterday, when blogging about Augustine Oreans, I searched and had a hit for him in the Toledo city directory for 1907, the year after he died.  I thought “Hmm, that’s weird. . .” and looked anyway.  Guess what?  It listed his age and death date!!


Although I did already have Augustine’s death certificate, this was great for reconfirming that I was following the right person, and a totally unexpected bonus to what I thought would be a name, an address, and an occupation.

Here are some of my other favorite finds:

1. Spouses

Although usually only the husband of a married couple is listed, you will sometimes find his wife also listed if she is running a business or has a profession.  And if the husband dies, the wife will regularly be listed the following year(s), often with a parenthetical (wid of ______) following her name.

2. Other family members

By looking for other people who share the same last name, you can often find relatives.  If the name is an uncommon one (for example, Oreans!), just finding the name can be enough to warrant further investigation.  But even for common names like Martin or Cook or Sharp, one can often find relatives by looking at their address.  Sons will be listed separately when they start working; daughters that take a job often will be as well.  Especially in immigrant families, I tend to find siblings or cousins sharing a house for the first few years, so sometimes you even luck out and find extended family!

3. Migration

I have on occasion found someone listed in a directory the year after moving with a note “removed to _____.”  Maybe this is like a mail-forwarding service?  These are lovely finds!

4. Occupations

Occupations can tell us so much about a person (and can often help us distinguish between multiple people of the same name when we’re working with more common names).  The old city directories almost universally provide them!  Sometimes they will list the address of the business where they work, or note that they reside at their place of business, which is a great lead for finding out more about the place where they worked, whether they owned a business, tracking down employment records, etc.


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This entry was posted on January 9, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , .
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