City Directories


Contributing Writer
Janet Wahlberg

Census records track your family every ten years, but City Directories track them every year allowing you to track your family more closely. They also allow you to research businesses and buildings in whatever city that you choose. You will find that many cities in the United States had City Directories and many of them are on-line at Ancestry. The Hall House has a complete set of City Directories for Jamestown as does the Prendergast Library. They range from the late 1800s to the late 1900s.

Surnames are listed in alphabetical order, making searching easy. Entries generally contain the basic information of a name, address, occupation and work address. Ex. “Mabee, Ernest, spinner, 122 Winsor, bds. 431 Chandler.” This entry indicates that Ernest works as a spinner at 122 Winsor St. and he boards at 431 Chandler St. Another entry lists Sarah Maddox as a widow. If you were not sure when her husband Thomas died, you could trace back through the directories until you found him listed. This would give you and approximate year of his death.

The surname directory is a great tool for tracking family members from their first appearance until their last appearance. You may be surprised to see how many times that they moved or changed jobs during the years that they resided in a city. Also, you may find that they disappear from the directory only to reappear a few years later indicating a move out of the area. This would certainly indicate another path of research.

Using the Street Directory enables you to establish when a residence first appears at the address that you are researching. The entry will also tell you who lived there at that time period. You can then follow the house through the subsequent years. Each entry will list the name of the person living there during that time period. If you then go to the Sanborn Maps that we have at the Hall House, you will be able to see a footprint of the property that includes the material that was used to construct the building. Be aware that the entries for the Street Directory will list all the even numbered houses and then in a separate list all the odd numbered houses. It also notes intersecting streets in the appropriate spot. This again adds context to the lives of our ancestors.

Businesses can be tracked using the Street directory or you can use the Business Directory. The Business Directory lists the entries under headings such as Architects, Plumbers, Carpenters, Grocers, etc. It is very interesting to look at some of the businesses that no longer exist such as Aristo Paper (used for printing photographs). American Aristotype, the forerunner of Eastman Kodak was located on Prospect St., is just one of the many fascinating entries waiting for you to discover.

To locate City Directories for other cities and areas outside of Chautauqua County, just Google the terms “City Directories” and you will receive several choices to look at. On Ancestry, go to the Search tab and drop it down to Card Catalog. When this opens, type in City Directory and you will have 265 to select from. Family Search offers a page titled Research WIKI. You will find it by clicking on the Research tab and selecting Research Wiki. When it opens, type in United States Directories in the box. It will open to a page that offers you a great explanation of many aspects of the directories. It also offers links that you can click on. Start looking today at this wonderful resource and expand your knowledge of those who came e before us.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to and visit Janet’s own web page.