Using City Directories

City directories date back to around 1700 in the United States region. They can provide the names of it citizens, their home and business addresses, spouse’s name plus other people who live in the same household.

For the family historian the information in city directories can open up new information previously unknown. Identification of an ancestor with names used in a business may have been unfamiliar. Actual street addresses and the changing of housing over a period of time can also be discovered.

The directories will have cross-indexing. With the streets listed alphabetical order and numerically, there is then a family name or business named for each address. The researcher can scan the other neighbors for possible relatives living nearby. Some directories reveal whether the resident is a tenant or homeowner.

Of special assistance the directory will have addresses for the town’s asylums, cemeteries, churches, fraternal organizations, hospitals, insurance companies, newspapers, railroads and schools. A few directories for smaller communities often give individual dates of death and names children with years of birth.

The first place to view city directories are at the public library and the genealogical societies for the locality the ancestor lived in. Hometowns saved these directories for reference and to help maintain their history. City directories will also be held in an individual state archive departments. Larger cities like Boston, Massachusetts have placed online their directories covering from 1845 to 1925.

The Library of Congress has an unmatched collection of United States city and telephone directories, both current and non-current. They are available in a variety of formats including paper, microfiche, microfilm, and electronic. There are over 700 American towns’ directories on microfilm housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. Requests can be made for copies.

Online genealogical sites like also have placed many city directories, for the United States and the United Kingdom, with their collection of databases. At the Family History Library out of Salt Lake City, Utah and their many local Family History Centers, microfiche and microfilm copies of certain city directories can be ordered and viewed locally by the researcher.

Another method for a researcher is to do a general Google research by placing in the search box, ‘city directory‘, add the plus sign (+) and the location. Many directories by genealogical societies and state archives are online to be viewed.

Investigate the possibly of a city directory where an ancestor lived, whether the town was large or small. Not all towns had a directory, but also check neighboring towns, which could have included surrounding areas.

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