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City Directory Resource

I can’t find a Lee that links our Frank Herbert Lee anywhere to anyone! So I wet digging even deeper…

There are many resources out there. Most every family historian & genealogist is familiar with censuses, vital records, & newspapers. Many are also familiar with wills & probate records. Right? You probably have had your hands on a few of the above, more than once :)

However, the one I always feel gets over looked, mostly due to its lack of digital nature, are the city directories! – (What a great genealogy society or historical society project! Digitalize the directories!!… Wink! Wink!)

To me, these are a gold mine in genealogy from about the turn of the mid-19th century…even heavier weighted gold if before 1850!

Many early state censuses were still on a “tick” system or “number” system until after 1900, listing only number of household members by gender & race. So sometimes, many censuses leave you in more doubt :(

These city directories can, & often do, include the missing person from a census. If your ancestor isn’t on the censuses (or when the 1890 census fails due to its disappearing fire act…lol) or the directories, there’s a good chance they aren’t living in this area at the time. However, they can be missed on a census but appear in the directory! What a great way to confirm a location!

Another affirmation is when you find their city directory listing & it includes an occupation! In my Neuhaus family, for example, they were said to be printers & indeed at least one of them was! How many times have you heard that an ancestor was of an occupation you cannot locate on the census? Or have you heard a story where they used to own an off the wall business never listed on a census? Did you check every year of the city directories?

When you look at the whole picture year to year, you can tell so much about family immigration/migration, when a child came of age in the time & earned their own listing, even if living at home! If you can go back far enough, you often can find missing links to parents, siblings, cousins, etc.

Through directories alone, I’ve watched the early years of a business start with one person grow into a family operation for a few generations! I’ve even found the “no way!” events in life I would have NEVER known without a directory filling in the 5-10 year gap between censuses :)

Directories also help with locating when an individual left the area & moved on…as they appear no further in the listings.

You can even learn of a death within the year, since many will list a woman if the man has past, or even better, it’ll say “wid. or widow of ….”!

Lastly, directories can also tell you so much about the times with the ads, the occupations, & what the listings include. One day phone numbers started appearing, but at first not everyone had one! To a sociology major like myself, directories speak volumes about the people & our society as history took its place :D

For an example of directory use into a story of one’s history, stayed tune for my next post: Heinrich Emil Neuhaus


2 responses »

  1. Hi Amy – I have to agree with your post! I was able to trace one entire branch of my Curbow family in the San Antonio City Directory. I was amazed at what information they printed…occupation…address….family members, etc. I am lucky – I live in Austin and have easy access to the Texas State Archives…they have a multitude of city directories available. Unfortunately…most of our Texas ancestors were farmers living “out in the country…” So I’ve only had luck with our city folk so far. Great post – thanks. Judy Curbow.

    • Thanks! That’s a bummer…I know some places had separate farmers directories or listings. Did San Antonio not have any collection, not even in a farms listing?


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