Interested in finding more in U.S. city directories? It can pay off handsomely with these tips.
Because they are usually arranged alphabetically, U.S. city directories are a snap for finding relatives and ancestors. The lure of those juicy details like specific addresses and occupations makes the alpha name index irresistible. But before you go, check these sections of the directory too.
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 that can further your research. 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 was a renter. And b for boards means individuals took their meals where they rented rooms – in the bdgh.
Cemeteries delight all genealogists. Finding names, addresses, and other information about cemeteries in a specific year can be a goldmine of information. Is the cemetery defunct today? Merged with another? Moved? Changed names? This cemeteries section has the answers.
4. Churches, Synagogues, and Houses of Worship
Ballenger & Richards Denver city directory for 1901 lists pages of churches. 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.
Another delight of genealogists everywhere, local newspapers can crush brick walls. You can always search the Library of Congress U.S. Newspaper Directory to to find local papers. But the newspapers section of city directories can be very specific, time-oriented shortcuts.
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 these societies, entrenched and overt racism appears. This entry in the 1928 Greeley, Colorado, directory, notes where the Ku Klux Klan meets each month. And yet no one wants public credit for leading this group.
7. Asylums, Homes, Charitable Institutions
You may be in search of an ancestor who was orphaned, aged, 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 inhabitants.
Finding More in U.S. City Directories
We haven’t even gotten to city boundary and ward maps; street lists; sections for additions, corrections, and late entries. So there’s always more to be found in city directories.
Want more? This month’s issue of my free genealogy newsletter features U.S. city directory research. And June’s issue covers international city directories.