U.S. City directories provide a wealth of information for historians. Beyond simply establishing location or residence, directories offer details about individuals and their community. Directories have been published usually annually (yearly) since the early 1800’s. City and county directories are similar to present day telephone books and are useful records for locating people.
City directories include an alphabetical listing of inhabitants (arranged by name, address, and occupation); widows, working women, and adult children at home. Some directories list a wife in parenthesis or whether a woman is a widow (including name of husband); a list of marriages and deaths of previous year; and death date.
Directories include ward maps; street locators, including cross streets; street name changes; businesses (and index to advertisers); and addresses and maps of churches, schools, funeral homes, cemeteries, post offices, courts, hospitals, benevolent associations and newspapers.
Often, this information appears in abbreviated form. The following table provides a few examples of the more common abbreviations found in U.S. city directories. Taken in context, they can provide a valuable insight into a person’s lifestyle and situation, and the community in which they lived. In addition, city directories may act as a census substitute for the 1890 federal census that was mostly lost in a fire in the 1920s.
For more information about city directories and their use in family or community history research, take a look at:
Direct Me NYC 1786: A History of City Directories in the United States and New York City by Philip Sutton, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy. June 8, 2012.
|b, bdg, bds||boards (room and board)|
|bdg hse||boarding house|
|do||ditto (or the same as above)|
|gr fl||ground floor|
|h||house, householder (owns the house)|
|r||roomer or resides (renter)|
|real est||real estate|
|s.e.||southeast or side entrance|
|sum res||summer residence|