I love Fall. The cool crisp morning and sunny mild days give me an extra burst of energy to get projects done outside and genealogy research inside. This week let’s explore using City Directories in our research.
You may have noticed that many genealogy magazines are not on the newsstands. With the virus most are providing magazines only to subscribers. A recent issue of Your Genealogy Today had an article by Gena Philibert- entitled City Directory Abbreviations”. She made excellent points regarding city directories and understanding the abbreviations. Our first inclination is to find our ancestor in the alphabet listings. This is fine but we should look at the beginning the of the directory to get a feel for the area and to find the key to the abbreviations. While you might be able to figure out some of them on your own, we all know what making wrong assumptions can do to our genealogy research.
There are many places where you can find a directory that covers the town or city or county where your ancestor lived. Rural directories sometimes take the form of County Atlases which include the plat map information as well as a listing of individuals in each township that have land. This week we will focus on City Directories. Here is an example from the Gary Indiana City Directory 1929.
You can see that two people are listed as residing at the rear of 4242 Maryland. You will notice that Ira C has a ‘r’ after his name which means reside or renter while Tony A who also lives at rear 4242 Maryland has a ‘h’ after his name. In this case, ‘h’ means homeowner. I happen to know that this is a father and son, so this adult son is living with his parents. It would be easy to overlook this little tidbit of information. You could check a census record near the same timeframe to confirm this.
There is an error in this city directory as Tony’s wife is Iva, not Ira. An easy mistake with the name above Ira. You may have noticed that behind her name is the number three. I think that the number refers to the number of children or the number of people in the household. I have not found a key for that information yet but for this family, I know that they had three young children at this time. The adult son Ira was from a previous marriage.
What else can we glean from this information? While Tony is listed as a Millworker but no other details, Floyd E listed above him (and I know he is another adult son) … is listed as a machinist at Walter Bates Steel Corporation. Ah we can look at this company or try to find it in the directory. While I could not find that company readily, I did look for Walter Bates and found a detailed entry about him. I know as genealogist we just delve into the details, don’t we? And below his entry are the details about this company and what they do. This little snippet of information can provide context and color in your family story.
In addition to searching for your family via the alphabetized listing, most city directories include a listing by the street address. Just as you would “look around” at the nearby neighbors in the census records, it is a good idea to see if there are any other relatives living near your ancestor’s address in the directory. It might be a way to track who lived at a particular address over the years…grandparents, parents, married daughters…you never know what you could discover.
Where to find City Directories?
Here are some resources to help you on your way.
According to their site: “LDSGenealogy.com is dedicated to helping families find their ancestors through our extensive records directory and genealogy articles. This site is privately owned and is not an official site of FamilySearch International or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).”
And remember to check with your public local libraries and genealogical societies. They often have physical copies of these useful books.
Have fun exploring the neighborhoods of your ancestors and remember to look for subtle clues that can be found beyond your ancestor’s listing.
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With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.