GenToday-L Archive

City Directory Research

by Jeannette Prouse

PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION in the August 1998 edition of GenToday-L

City directories are similar to phone directories. There are differences as well. These directories can be very helpful to your research. Some areas where they can be used is locating a possible date of death, when a person moved to or from an area, when a person became an adult, where a person lived, worked, married, and many other wonderful uses.

The information provided on a city directory will vary. Some provide more or less than others. A basic city directory will contain the name of the head of household, their address, and the yellow pages. Usually a directory will also include the place of employment, name of the wife, and at times the number of people living in a household. Even a basic directory can be very helpful to your search.

There are many to uses for a city directory that is beneficial to the genealogist. One use is when there is not an index available for a particular census. At times, especially in larger cities, there are cross indexes to a census by street name. Using a city directory will provide you with the family's address so that it can be easily located on a census. Even in this use, a researcher may have to check the surrounding years, as your family may have moved.

Another use is locating an approximate time of death. Checking for the family on many city directories, you will locate when approximately a person has died. Perhaps, it will also state the widow's name. On the other hand, you may wish to know when a family moved to or from an area. This will also provide you with an approximate year by checking several directories you will learn when your family first shows up or is missing in an area.

Many researchers check only for the head of household; however, there are many clues that can be missed. Always scan the surname for others living at the same address. One can usually find other children who have become an adult. If it is an uncommon surname, you can find information about other relatives as well. When researching in this century, city directories are very helpful when used in this manner, since the last census available at this time is the 1920.

The commercial section of a city directory has many uses as well. It will provide you with information on schools, churches, funeral homes, cemeteries, and other businesses. For example, you do not know what cemeteries were in existence when your relative died. A researcher can search the city directories and provide names and address for the cemeteries that existed at that time.

The city directories can be very helpful when they are searched in a set of years. If you skip over years in city directories, information that is helpful can be missed. It is important to check extra years to make sure that your family has not been missed on a particular city directory. When you are seeking information on your family, do not overlook this vital source for information.

Reprinted with permission of the author and LoneStar Genealogy

Online Resources:

  • Old City Directories


    Do you have a difficult time locating the birth date when only the date of death and age is known? Try this proven method called the 8870 Formula.

    Example: The person died on March 10, 1873 and was 52 years, 4 months, and 19 days old. 18730310 (Year of death, month, and day) subtract 520419 (Age at death years, months, and days) total 18209891 subtract 8870 (Formula number) 18201021 (Date of birth)

    This person was born on October 21, 1820.

    When there are more than 30 days in the day section, subtract 30 from the days and add 1 to the months. If you have over 12 in the months, subtract 12 and add 1 to the years column.


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    Additional Articles:

  • Newspapers on Microform
  • Military Records
  • Federal Mortality Schedules

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