Interested in finding more in US city directories? It can pay off handsomely with these tips. Then discover free US city directories online in my monthly newsletter.
Look beyond alphabetical name listings to find more in US city directories. Finding those juicy specific addresses and occupations in the alpha name index first is irresistible. But take a look at these other sections to help your research:
Sections in US City Directories
1. General Index
The general index or table of contents of a city directory is like a showcase of the goods on offer inside. The 1900 Chicago city directory index is featured above. It gives you a quick window into the organizations, businesses, and institutions in the area. Make this your first stop after finding those relatives’ names.
Download this list of general abbreviations from Genealogy in Time magazine. Also consult the glossary in each volume for unfamiliar city directory shorthand. Atty for attorney seems obvious. But I’d spend a lot of time on bdgh before I’d ever come up with boardinghouse. Rms for rooms means the individual rented a room only. So the b means where individuals took their meals – usually in that bdgh.
Abbreviations can vary from publisher to publisher or even year to year. So check this section for helping deciphering.
Cemeteries delight all genealogists. Discover names, addresses, and other information about cemeteries in a specific year . Is the cemetery defunct today? Merged with another? Moved? Changed names? The Cemeteries section helps sort this out.
4. Churches, Synagogues, and Houses of Worship
Ballenger & Richards Denver city directory for 1901 lists pages of churches and synagogues. Included are not just addresses, but also the names of rabbis and pastors. Checking this information against birth, marriage, and obituaries short on detail often unlocks more information. Also find the churches located nearest your ancestors’ addresses. Churches with African American congregations or ethnic affiliations are often noted as well.
Local newspapers can crush brick walls. You can always search the Library of Congress U.S. Newspaper Directory to find local papers. But the newspapers section of city directories offers very specific, time-oriented shortcuts to this information.
In this online age, the sheer number of social organizations to which our ancestors belonged is amazing. Equally notable are the variety of groups, whether ethnic, fraternal, secret, benevolent, or professional. Take care to search the general index closely. In the Chicago 1900 example at top, there are many entries for “colored societies,” medical, miscellaneous, secret and benevolent, plain-vanilla societies, and temperance societies. Societies in Denver city directory for 1901 reveal many ethnicities, such as the German and Hungarian groups shown here.
And in the midst of research, casually overt racism appears. This entry in the 1928 Greeley, Colorado, directory, notes where the Ku Klux Klan meets each month. Note that no one wants public credit for leading the local Klan.
7. Asylums, Homes, Charitable Institutions
You may be in search of an ancestor who was orphaned or aged. Perhaps someone was blind or unmarried and expecting, or in ill health. Look for care facilities under headings for asylums, homes, or other charitable institutions. This image shows similar places in the 1902 Kansas City directory. With specific addresses, it’s easier to search census for ancestors who may have been cared for institutionally. I solved a brick wall of my own this way.
Finding More in US City Directories
We haven’t even gotten to city boundary and ward maps or street lists. Then there are usually sections for additions, corrections, and late entries. So there’s always more to be found in city directories!