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U.S. City Directories

by Paul Rawlins

If you’re like me, the 1940 census was full of surprises—like my own parents not living where they were supposed to be living. Enter U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (Beta).

We’ve had city directories on the site for years. They can be a great source for names, addresses, and occupations. They’re printed more often than censuses. And they can give you a feel for a time and place, with maps, clubs and churches, and ads for local businesses (apparently in my home town, ice cream was health food back in the 1946—so long as it was Brown’s).

City Directories were great records before, they’re downright indispensable now. Over the last year, we have been running our U.S. directories through a new process similar to the one we used to create indexes for our U.S. School Yearbooks collection. The results: over 1 billion records with a better, more accurate index, more names, and more matches turning up when you search. Matches like my grandmother, Mabel C. Stoddard—living in Rexburg in 1939, instead of Plano, where my mother was born.

With the cross streets, I’ll be able to narrow down the enumeration district and find my mother’s family in the 1940 census. (And apparently listing yourself as a widow after a divorce hadn’t gone out of fashion—though that’s another story.)

Finding Family
I know my grandmother moved to Ogden, Utah, later. I don’t have access to the 1950 census, of course (another 10-year wait), but directories can give me an idea of when the family headed south. A search for my grandmother in Ogden in 1950, +/- 10 years, brings up the first hit in 1952.

Checking the browse tells me that we have directories for Ogden for 1944, 1946, 1948, and 1951, which makes a move sometime around 1952 likely. (My mother shows up herself two years later, complete with occupation: a clerk at the credit bureau.)

Put Directories to Work
If you haven’t searched U.S. City Directories lately, you could be in for a treat—or maybe even a feast. And don’t let the “Beta” throw you. It just means we’re adding even more improvements to the collection.

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