Directories on Microform

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This article is part of a series.
Overview of Directories
Locating Directories
City Directories
Using Census Records with Directories
City Directories and World War I Draft Registration Cards
Using Death and Probate Records with Directories
Using Church Records with Directories
Using Naturalization and Land Records with Directories
Telephone Directories
Directories on Microform
Professional Directories
Organizational Directories
Religious Directories
Post Office and Street Directories
List of Useful Directory References

This article originally appeared in "Directories" by Gordon L. Remington, FASG, FUGA in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

The business directory, as a distinct entity, evolved partly from special sections in city directories and partly from the needs of people in sparsely populated rural areas to communicate their services to one another. Because the rural economy often centered on the county seat, these early business directories were usually organized by county or region. In addition to the names of farmers and businessmen, they contained advertisements of goods and services; although they were primarily business oriented, they also served as general directories in those rural areas. Much like a modern almanac, they often included other useful information.

A regional (multicounty, state, or market area) business directory combines a city directory’s specialized business sections with a county directory’s wide geographic market coverage. As communications developed, nineteenth-century manufacturers, farmers, and those with service-oriented businesses found that directories covering more than their own county were quite useful and even necessary. These regional business directories varied in comprehensiveness. The earlier ones, often called advertising directories, mentioned only those businesses that could afford to be included. By the late 1800s, however, statewide business directories listed nearly every place and a variety of businesses, from farms to pharmacies. County directories can also be found in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century county histories and atlases.

Information obtained from county or regional business directories helps locate people in place and time. County business directories that include farmers, like city directories, narrow census searches to specific townships. This is especially useful when an ancestor married someone from another township in the same county and the marriage record doesn’t state which township. Some county business directories also contain dates and places of birth, dates of marriage, length of residence in the town, names of children, and other biographical details on their subjects as well as names.

You can use regional business directories in the same way. A region can be defined as an entire state or a geographic area, such as a valley or a coast. If you know which state an ancestor lived in but not the exact place, regional directories can help, although they are less likely to give such extensive biographical information, and their coverage may be limited.

How to Use County and Regional Business Directories

The Gazetteer and Business Directory of Monroe County, New York for 1869–1870 is a typical county business directory. On the page displayed in the attached figure, the residents of the rural town of Henrietta are listed alphabetically. The information following each name, when properly interpreted, is very enlightening. For example, the entry for Alvy Remington indicates that his post office was in West Henrietta; thus, it was the closest settlement as well. His land was in lot 10, range 6, according to the survey of the land company that originally owned the land. By occupation he was a farmer and owned ninety-five acres. If he had leased his land, this also would have been indicated.

There are three other Remingtons in Henrietta in this directory: George T., Seth W., and William T. Without knowing anything about the family, one could conclude that there is some relationship between Alvy, Seth, and William on the basis of the lot and range information. In fact, William and Seth were Alvah (the correct spelling) Remington’s sons. William had fifty-seven acres, the directory tells us, while Seth had only one. A bit of family history provides a gloss on the directory information. Thomas Remington, Alvah’s father, originally purchased lot 10, range 6, in the 1820s from a consortium of Dutch land speculators. Alvah bought out his brothers and sisters then distributed the land among his own children. The fact that Seth had only one acre in 1870 helps explain the relationship between father and son: when Alvah died in 1888, he left nothing to Seth’s children because Seth had been unable to pay back a debt to his father before he had died in 1885.

One of the earliest regional directories is The American Advertising Directory: Manufacturers and Dealers in American Goods for the Year 1831. Most of the listings are in the Northeast manufacturing area, but places as far (in 1831) from the East Coast as Nashville, Tennessee, had at least one listing. This contrasts starkly with the New Mexico Business Directory for 1907–8, which mentions every city, town, and village in New Mexico as well as El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado. The town of Central had 450 inhabitants, but only fifteen entries were given:

Postoffice and important town in Grant county, 9 miles east of Silver City, the most convenient railroad point. :Mining, stockraising, farming and fruitgrowing the principal industries. Population 450.
Bayard Smelting & Mining Co, W D Murray mgr.
Crowley J, postmaster, justice peace, drugs.
GOULD BROS, general merchandise.
Hamilton A, mines and mining
Helde Mrs. G W, millinery and dressmaker.
Link B T, fruitgrower and dairy.
McMillen Geo, mines and mining.
MURRAY BROS, general merchandise.
Reed Mrs W, restaurant.
Rendall L G, notary public.
Rodgers Clark, fruitgrower.
Stephens Chas, fruitgrower.
SWEENEY W H, general merchandise.
Wiley J A, saloon.17

Note that the postmaster was also the justice of the peace and pharmacist for the town. The directory does not list the men who worked on the fruit farms and in the mines. This 1912 directory is, however, more detailed and for a smaller region than the 1831 directory cited previously.

Special Problems

Business directories are limited in that the editor selected which businesses to include, sometimes based on subscription. If your ancestor was a businessman but was not mentioned, it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t there. Another problem with regional directories is availability. These directories seem to have been published much less regularly than the yearly city directories, making them harder to find.


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