City directories offer useful information

12 years ago

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There are many people who have never come across a “city directory,” so you may be unaware of how helpful a good city directory can be for genealogical research. Long before telephones were in common use, our cities’ populations were large enough that it was no longer possible to “know everyone” as we still do in small towns. The city directory was a logical solution to the problem of locating people in a population of many thousands.

The best city directories listed every home and business in town, usually in two ways; once by name, and again by address. Such double listing provides unique cross-referencing opportunities. Obviously, it is great to be able to find one’s ancestor in an alphabetical listing. Even though only the head of household is listed, it is possible to find others with the same last name who may be family members, too.

Generally, an alphabetical listing might look something like this: “Gallagher, Maria, wid. John. 106 Main, b. 20 Village.” This entry means: Maria Gallagher, widow of John Gallagher, lives at 20 Village Street and works at 106 Main Street. The other section of the directory is listed by address. Here on the page for Village Street we would find this listing: 20 Gallagher, Maria, wid. John, 106 Main.

Because the information in both listings for great-grandmother Gallagher appears so similar, it would be easy to assume we need only check one or the other. However, the alphabetical listing shows six Gallaghers in Hartford in 1889. We don’t know of any relationship between them, but a quick look shows a John Gallagher who boards at 20 Village Street. Obviously, great-grandfather John is deceased, but here is a man old enough to be a boarder, living with Maria, good chance he may be her son or grandson. We know that Maria had only one son, named Charles, so this Gallagher male is an exciting find.

Both the alphabetical and the street listings show Maria as working at 106 Main Street. Using the street listing for Main Street we find that the business listed at 106 is a seamstress shop. This seems quite reasonable since we did not know before this that Maria had ever worked. There would have been few work opportunities for an older Irish immigrant female in 1880s Hartford, Conn.

Maria’s street listing also showed a neighbor who worked at the same address as Maria. Further research showed that this previously unknown female was the married name of a “lost” relative. Looking carefully at the matching surnames in the alphabetical listing; and at neighbors in the street listings has provided several clues we would not have found otherwise.

Remember when searching any source, that there may be additional formats with similar information, and its worthwhile to study both.

Editor’s note: Columnist Nina Brawn of Dover-Foxcroft, who has been doing genealogy for over 30 years, is a freelance genealogy researcher, speaker and teacher. Reader e-mails are welcome at The Aroostook County Genealogical Society meets the fourth Monday of the month except in July and December at the Cary Medical Center’s Chan Education Center, 163 Van Buren Road, Caribou, at 6:30 p.m. Guests and prospective members are always welcome. FMI contact Edwin “J” Bullard at 492-5501.