Saturday, April 4, 2015

D is for Directory

I am a huge fan of directories. Whether published as a project (church and club directories) or for commercial purposes (city and town directories) directories are a real find. Commercial directories were created to assist salesmen and merchants in contacting residents of a community. For the most part, they were published on an annual basis. This is especially useful for large cities and renters, as our ancestors often moved on "rent day" and these directories had up-to-date information. Perhaps your ancestor did not own property or pay taxes in certain years? Well, s/he lived somewhere and that information is recorded in directories. You can chart their movements with a directory.

Don't get ahead of yourself when you start looking through the actual or digitized copy of a directory. Treat it like the book that it is! Be sure to take the time to read through the welcome note, check out the maps and photographs, peruse the advertisements, and read up on the history of the organization or place. And then be sure to look up your ancestors and their friends and neighbors. Take the write-ups with a grain of salt - many of these members or residents are writing about themselves - they all tend to be pillars of the community. But it is fun reading and often provides clues as to additional areas to research. If your ancestors lived in rural areas or small towns, you might just find future relatives in those directories (that smaller marriage pool).

The current and historical residence directories for the Bonavista region of Newfoundland were a real treat. Between the history of each community and the advertisements, I got a sense of each of those communities at a specific point in time.

The historical city directories for Minneapolis, Minnesota (available at the Central Library in Minneapolis - an amazing facility - from its architecture, to its holdings, to its staff) helped me find not only where my ancestors lived, but also what they did, where they worked, and where they moved to and took up residence. The advertisements included drawings and photographs of businesses that give lots of additional information.

To learn more about directories and where to find those of interest to your family history, read the excellent Directories article at the FamilySearch Wiki (you are using the wiki aren't you - it is a real treasure. Be sure to scroll all the way through to the individual State maps and find the particulars for your family's States of interest!). And check out the listing of United States Online Historical Directories.

While the census is a great snapshot for each decade, directories of all types give us clues about all those in-between years. Be sure to check out the usual suspects (Ancestry, FamilySearch, FindmyPast, and MyHeritage, among others) for directories.


  1. Wow. I"m learning so much about genealogy from you.

    1. Thanks Pam - it is fun to go through and see how I use events and, at the same time, I am finding some additional work to do (often sources).

  2. As I too go through this challenge I'm finding some extra work to do and sometimes finding new records available. You asked for the link to my blog and thank you for that. It is at

    1. Judy - I am enjoying reading your posts and I agree, whenever I start what I think will be a quick post, I find something to correct or play with. I have bookmarked your blog to follow along with your #AtoZChallenge. Thanks for reading and commenting.


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