Genealogy: Researching directories

Researching directoriesBy Barry J. Ewell

Directories and member lists are the predecessors of the modern-day phone book. They listed the inhabitants of a locality with their addresses and occupation (and sometimes business address).

What you will find and research insights. The types of directories you will find and their value to you as a genealogist include the following:

Alumni Directory. Alumni directories contain a listing of individuals who attended a particular university, the year that they graduated, and their degree. If you can find information about your ancestor in one of these directories, you may be able to locate other records within the organization that can provide insight into the life of your ancestor.

Business Directory. Business directories are listings of businesses in the community and usually contain personal information about the owner such as dates and places of birth, dates of marriage, names of children, length of residence in the town, and other valuable information. They are usually organized by county and, depending on the time period, vary in the amount of information they contain. Often, you’ll find advertisements for certain businesses in these directories.

Professional Directories. Includes directories for people such as doctors and lawyers. They will most often include information relating to that individual’s history in the profession, as well as other biographical information.

City Directory. City directories help you locate where and when a person lived. You will also find a publisher’s introduction, history of the city, a street directory, ward boundaries, a map of the city, abbreviations, a directory of churches, a directory of cemeteries, a list of city officials, classified lists of businesses, a list of fraternal and social organizations, city laws or ordinances, a calendar of events, and more. A city directory can often guide you to other records such as censuses, death and probate records, naturalization records, land records, and church records.

Telephone Directory. Most people are familiar with the common telephone directory; they contain addresses and phone numbers. These directories can be quite helpful in locating living relatives or possible relatives with the same surname or a similar surname. The phone company in each city in the United States publishes a directory of everyone in that area who has a phone number.

Where to find directories. The first place to look for a book or microfilm copy of directories is the public library of the town you are conducting research about. State libraries and larger regional libraries may also have city directories for towns in that state or area. State and academic libraries also have sets of city directories followed by genealogical and historical societies. Online resources include DistantCousin, United States Online Historical Directories, and US City Directories.


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