Sorting Ancestors in City Directories
I had found several common threads in city directories that seem to be leading to my Kelly ancestors in New York City. The problem: I am dealing with an extremely common surname in a very large city. Commonalities among individuals listed in directories, which typically only list head of households, just aren’t enough to determine which Kellys are mine. I needed to follow up with the huge list I created using directories from 1816-49, and I needed a way to sort out my notes.
Early on in my day at the Family History Library, I only pulled the James Kellys because I knew that my third great-grandmother’s brother and father were both named James. Beginning with years prior to when I believe them to have arrived in the U.S., I moved forward. As I went along, I started noticing common threads and began pulling additional names.
Ideally, I would have pulled all of the Kellys, but I only had one day and they wouldn’t let me camp out in the library overnight. Hey, it’s not like I’d have needed a sleeping bag -- just a comfy chair in front of a microfilm reader would have been fine for me that night. So anyway, I had to settle with a few select individuals and the hope of more additions to my database down the road.
So there I was on my first week of vacation, with pages and pages of Kellys just waiting to be analyzed -- and a husband insisting that I take a break from work. I tried the argument that even though I was sitting at the computer I wasn’t really working, but he didn’t buy into that for long. He busted me for tying up some loose ends and checking e-mail and decided I needed to move completely away from the office computer and my e-mail account.
So, off I went to the back patio to hang out in our new kiddie pool with my daughter. I lounged a bit, did a little reading under the umbrella, and had some fun with my daughter and her friend, but my thoughts kept returning to my ancestors, and I finally decided that I could probably get away with entering some of my directory finds into the laptop -- after all, I had no Internet access outside so I couldn’t get caught up with work, right?
So with a cold drink next to me, and my daughter and her friend frolicking in the pool, I sat at my patio table under an umbrella, entering 276 Kellys into a spreadsheet so that I could better sort them out. Ah, the picture of relaxation!
My Cool New Spreadsheet
Since my days in banking, I have turned to spreadsheets whenever I have had something that needed sorting out, and my Kellys were surely in need of a good sorting. Before I set up my spreadsheet, I thought about what would be the best way to sort them. The addresses were going to be tricky. Since family members often lived near each other, I wanted to be able to sort the entries geographically and so I needed to separate the house numbers from the street names. I set up columns for:
- Given Name
- Street Number 1
- Street Name 1
- Street Number 2
- Street Name 2
- Directory Name
This worked pretty well and for the first few decades I was able to sort out individuals by occupation and street name. I began a system of color-coding to track individuals throughout the years. (Red shading was for James the baker, bright pink for James the distiller, green with yellow print for James the grate manufacturer, etc.) This worked for a while, but things started getting really hairy when we starting seeing multiple Jameses sharing occupations (and moving way too often!). It became really tough trying to identify who was who.
I needed a way to sort geographically beyond the street names. I remembered seeing a street index for Manhattan that gave 1860 wards . I marked the column clearly as 1860 because although the directory said that the wards were the same for the 1850 and 1860, they are different from both previous and later years and this would really throw me off were I do to a manual census search of other years using these boundaries. I used these boundaries because, a) it was the only street index I had hand, and b) the smaller size of the wards as compared to earlier years, gives me a better look at the proximity of the various Kelly families. Although I was looking through several decades of listings, using the one 1860 boundaries as my sorting standard, it would serve my purpose in sorting them geographically.
To get a feel for how well it would work before I spent a lot of time filling in wards on the 276 Kellys, I started with a smaller spreadsheet I had also made of all the Kellys from the recently posted Manhattan 1829-30 directory.There were only fifty-six Kellys listed in this spreadsheet so it would make a good test case.
I added columns for “1860 Wards” and “Other 1860 Wards,” then went through each listing and began using the street directory to list the wards. In the “1860 Wards” column, I listed the first ward that was listed, and if there was more than one, I listed the rest in the second column. Since my search seem to be focused on the earlier numbered wards, (particularly the Second Ward) this worked well. The sorts by ward number would take the lowest ward number first, so it grouped all the low numbers together. If I were searching higher numbered wards, I’d probably have to revise my approach and I just may have to when I get to later years, when they moved uptown.
In addition, in cases where there was a cross street mentioned, I could often pin down exactly which ward the family or individual lived in.
Enter Census Records
The spreadsheet gave me a clearer picture of which Kellys I wanted to focus on, and I was anxious to see if the 1830 census turned up any households that were a good fit with the family I am looking for. I started by searching the 1830 Ancestry.com census indexes for Kellys in New York City.
To keep track of the census entries I found, I started another worksheet in the same spreadsheet and am trying to match the entries to the directory listings. I use a hyperlink between the worksheets to link the entries I find in the census to the directory worksheet. (In Excel, this can be done by going to Insert/Hyperlink and in the pop-up box, click “Place in this document,” enter the cell number, and select the worksheet you want to link to. Voila! I am cross-referencing them so I can flip back and forth.)
Now, by looking at the family structures, I can see if they fit the profile of my Kelly family. I still have a ways to go on even the 1830 and want to do the same for the larger database I created, but it really is helping to make sense of who’s who.
Other tools that I’m using are an 1848 map of Manhattan. I made extra copies of the parts I am looking at so I can mark them up using my daughter’s colored markers. (I just love color-coding!)
I am going to need more than census records to prove my theories once I get these Kellys sorted out more thoroughly. Other records I’ll be turning to include vital records (from later years on any collateral relatives I find -- vital registration wasn’t available for these early years), church records, cemetery records, probates, newspapers, and more.
I’ve no doubt that this will be a time consuming process, but from the results I have seen so far, I am guessing it will be worth it. Identifying this family has become a bit of an obsession with me and I’m anxious to get back to the task at hand. See you by the pool!
Juliana Smith is the editor of the "Ancestry Daily News" and author of "The Ancestry Family Historian's Address Book." She has written for Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, but regrets that she is unable to assist with personal research.