Previously unknown information on our ancestors can be discovered using city directories. These printed booklets, also known as registers or gazettes, are like windows opening up into a certain time period featuring the industries, stores, occupations, churches, organizations and citizens of a given area. Even some of the smallest towns across the United States had a city directory during some part of their history, especially from 1880 to 1940.
A free collection of scanned images and some transcribed from actual directories are found on DistantCousin Directories. There is a searchable box as well as a listing of those states with towns and city directories. Not all states are in the collection yet, just 39 to date, however, they are adding new listings. They do have neighboring St. John, New Brunswick in Canada for 1923.
The time periods are varied and the style of directories also. Some examples include a 1917 Union County, Indiana Farm Directory to a 1859 Columbia, South Carolina city directory. Additionally might be found a Tax List for 1914 and 1925 from Dunbarton, New Hampshire or a 1905 Sandusky County, Ohio Rural Mail Directory.
Each directory examined provides a brief introduction and then listed each page with a title to what is on that page. You then click on the desired page to call that image up. Most directories have about the businesses, civil organizations, churches, schools and societies. Then a separate section with residents’ names. Here in alphabetical order by surname the head of household, a spouse’s name, the home address and many times the occupation and where the person works. A true wealth of information in these directories.
For those with surnames which had a variety of spellings, by searching through the occupations in a town might just offer the answers you are looking for. If you knew a family church name, it was usually in a neighborhood. Once the church location was found then checking the streets might lead you to the ancestral family home and name.
The site does not have all the directories available for each state listed, but more are placed online with the site each week. Some states have quite a few directories now available, such as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. An interesting set of transcriptions from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the full obituaries for all of October 1918.
So it is worth the research time to check any and all city directories. The example above is from Nashville, TN in 1924 with names and advertising.