Deciphering city directory entries

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.

ab above
agcy agency
agt agent
al alley
agrl agricultural
apt apartment
assn, Assn Association
auto automobile
av, Av avenue
b, bdg, bds boards (room and board)
bdg hse boarding house
bel below
bet between
bld, bldg building
blk block
blvd, boul boulevard
br branch
bros brothers
c, cor corner
causew causeway
ch, Ch church
chmbrs chambers
civ civil, civic
ck creek
co county
col, col’d colored
coll college
com commission, commons
com’l commercial
confry confectionary
cres crescent
ct court
dept department
dist district
div division
do ditto (or the same as above)
dom domestic
drugst drugstore
e, E east
Ea east
elec electric
e.s. east side
est estate
ex, exch exchange
f freeholder
fcty factory
fl floor
for forest
ft foot
frt freight
gdns gardens
gds goods
gen, genl general
govt government
gr fl ground floor
gt great
h house, householder (owns the house)
hd hand
hdqtrs headquarters
hdw hardware
heth heath
hngr hangar
ho house
hosp hospital
imp import
implts implements
imptr importer
inc incorporated
ins insurance
jct junction
l lives
la lane
lbr lumber
ldg lodging
ltd, Ltd Limited
mdse merchandise
mer merchant
mfg manufacturing
mfr manufacturer
mkt market
mn man
mut mutual
n, N north
n, nr near
n.e. northeast
n.s. north side
n.w. northwest
natl national
off office
op, opp opposite
pass passenger
ph penthouse
pk park
pkwy parkway
pl place
p.o. post office
pt point
propr proprietor (owner)
prov province
r roomer or resides (renter)
r, rr rear
R.C. Roman Catholic
rd road
regd registered
real est real estate
res residence, resides
ret retail, retired
rm room
rms rooms (renter)
RR rural route
rw row
Ry railway
s, S south
sch school
s.e. southeast or side entrance
ship shipping
side side entrance
soc society
spec special
sq square
st store
s.s. south side
sta stable
sta, stn station
sum res summer residence
s.w. southwest
t tenant
tav tavern
tel telephone
teleg telegraph
ter terrace
tn town
tp township
trans transportation
trans transfer
trav travelling
up upper
var variety
w, W west
ware warehouse
wf, whf wharf
w.s. west side
whol wholesale
wid widow
wks works
wlk walk
wmn woman
yd yard