Like professional directories, organizational directories are highly specialized and suited to the needs of a particular organization. Two examples of such directories are university alumni directories and fraternity directories. If your ancestor belonged to some other organization, you can consult Directories in Print to see if a directory for that organization currently exists and, if so, contact the organization and determine if it has any earlier directories.
These sorts of directories, however, may not be published annually and so may not appear in Directories in Print. You may even have to consult the Encyclopedia of Associations (published annually by Gale Research) to find a specific directory for the particular organization in which you are interested. In some cases, an organizational directory does not tell you the names of its members but may provide the addresses of various branches to which you can write. This would be helpful in cases where an ancestor belonged to an organization in the 1800s that is no longer active and for which you must locate records. The kind of information given in an organizational directory can range from a mere address to dates of transfer or membership, or even of birth and death.
How to Use Organizational Directories
Here is a hypothetical example of the joint use of two organizational directories. A modern descendant of the Weed family discovers an old fraternity pin in the attic bearing the Greek letters Alpha Delta Phi. On the back of the pin, the initials H.A.W. are inscribed. Some time ago, this family had moved to the West Coast from New York and had lost all touch with the family in the East. In fact, Grandpa Weed had been reluctant to talk about his ancestors beyond the information that “they came from New York.”
Seizing upon this artifact as a potential key to the Weed family mysteries, the modern Weed tries to locate information on H.A.W. His best approach would be to find some list of past fraternity members, but there was none listed in Directories in Print at the local library. There was, however, a listing for Baird’s Manual of American College Fraternities. Upon calling the publisher (the local library did not have this source), the modern Weed encounters a typical problem for genealogists: the publisher would rather sell him the book than provide, free of charge, the address of the Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity Alumni Association. Fortunately, Weed’s library had the Encyclopedia of Associations and provides him—free of charge—with the information he desired. After Weed sends a request for information, the alumni association sends him a copy of the following page from the 1966 Catalogue of the Alpha Delta Phi, the listing for the chapter at Columbia University:
- Hillyer, Giles Mumford
- Hobart, John Henry
- Jay, John
- McVickar, Henry
- Ward, Henry, Jr.
- Waters, George Gilfert
- Weed, Harvey Augustus
- Aldis, Charles
- Blatchford, Samuel
- Chittenden, Nathaniel William
- Fessenden, Henry Partridge
- Galsey, Anthony
- Leggett, William Henry
- MacMullen, John
- Tucker, John Ireland
- Vanderbilt, John, Jr.
- Whitlock, Samuel H.
A letter accompanying the page indicates that this is the only Weed with the initials H.A. in the general index to the catalogue, which also lists him as deceased.
This information led Weed to examine the Columbia University Alumni Register, which reveals that, not only did Harvey Augustus Weed graduate in 1836, he went on to receive a higher degree in 1839.
- Weed, Edgar Theodore MD 1881, 39 W 87 NYC
- Weed, Edwin Dunning AB 1894, 2218 E 1 Duluth Minn, Clergy
- Weed, Eleanor Hill (see Sharp,Elearnor Weed)
- Weed, Ethel Georgine AM 1906, Maplewood NJ
- Weed, G B ent 1834 P&S, decd.
- Weed, Harvey Augustus AB 1836, AM 1839 C, d. 1872
- Weed, John Went 1819 P&S, decd.
- Weed, John Waring LLB 1868, d. Nov 7, 1915
- Weed, Lowry Albert AB 1916 (cl 1914). Internat’l Composition Co 25 Broadway NYC
The register also indicates that Harvey Augustus Weed died in 1872. Without knowing his exact date of birth, the modern Weed estimates, based on the date of Harvey’s first degree, that Harvey was in his late forties when he died. Grandpa Weed had been born in 1870; perhaps this was the reason he knew little of his past. With the information from the Alumni Register, the modern Weed checks Columbia University’s records, which allow him to extend the line by linking them with other sources.
Locating organizational directories is the major problem. Since many of them are published after the fact—that is, they are really books that contain membership lists since the organization’s inception—more recent copies may be just as valuable as earlier copies. Some directories, however, may prune earlier membership lists. Check the organization itself and the Library of Congress first, then go to major university and public libraries in the area where the school is located.
- Executive Council of the Alpha Delta Phi, Catalogue of the Alpha Delta Phi, 1832–1866 (New York: Alpha Delta Phi, 1966), 101.
- The Committee on [the] General Catalogue, Columbia University Alumni Register, 1754–1931 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), 931.