City directories are an alphabetical listing of residents, businesses, and/or advertisements dating back to the 1700s. The value of city directories is that they were published annually, allowing researchers to determine when an ancestor first appears and then disappears from an area, or moves from one place to another within an area. City directories not only identify ancestors in time and place, but can also provide important information such as names, addresses, occupation and employer; some directories include the wife's name, and some may include death or relocation information. City directories may also be used to identify local school, churches, cemeteries, businesses, industries, and other institutions and organizations, leading researchers to other source material. Many directories include advertising, which can provide information on ancestors who were in business such as business name, owners and partners, business addresses, etc. City directories can serve an important role as substitute when census records are missing or when ancestors cannot be found in a particular census.
City directories are widely available, some have been digitized and made available online, through free and subscription websites. Many are held through various repositories such as the Family History Library; state archives and historical societies; state and local libraries, etc. A Google search for city directories plus your locale may yield positive results, including directory sites that provide links to known collections. In addition, a growing collection of City and Farm Directories is available through the Genealogy Today Subscription Data.
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