Friday, February 28, 2014


Detroit city directory title page 1879

One of my favorite sources for information are city directories.  They can tell you so many things about your ancestors.  

City Directories aren’t always easy to locate on  They often don’t show up when we do searches, or perhaps they are several pages into the search listings. 

I use the general search feature up at the top of the home page to conduct a specific search for directories.  Once I've clicked on "search," I do the following:

- Go to the right column and scroll down to “Schools, Directories & Church    Histories” and click on City & area directories. 
- Then I click on USA and from there I type “Detroit” in the title
- If I type Detroit in the keyword box instead, I get 96 hits and some of those are not for Detroit.

By typing Detroit in the title box I get EVERYTHING in the Detroit directory category.  I had 50 results when I did it this way.

If I go straight to the card catalog and type “directory” in the title box and then put “detroit” in the keyword box, I get 86 results.  HOWEVER, those results also include Bay City, West Bay City, Ann Arbor, Battle Creek and even an Iowa Gazetteer & Business Directory.  

Someone else may have a better way to bring up the exact results and if so, please let me know.

Detroit directory screenshot

When I select the highlighted 1884 directory this is what comes up on the screen.

1884 screen shot

You can see that on the right of the screen you can go into the directory and locate the General Index, Advertisements, Deaths in Detroit, Mayors, Business Directory & several other items.  That allows you to scroll through those sections, if you want to.  Or you can type a name into the search boxes and be taken directly to the page containing that name.

  • Where your ancestor was living
  • Where your ancestor worked
  • What your ancestor’s occupation was
  • Who else was living at the same address
  • Who else might be living nearby with the same surname
  • What organizations, lodges, clubs were in the area
  • What churches were in the same neighborhood
  • Who were the elected officials
  • Deaths during a certain year
  • What businesses were operating during that year      
UPDATE - On March 10, 2015 I located my great grandfather's listing in the Detroit city directory giving his exact date of death.  This listing was in a directory in the year following his death.
I find directories very interesting and informative.  Let’s take a look at some of my finds.
Here is an 1879 Detroit, Michigan city directory.  I will look at the GOULD’s listed on this page. (click on any image to enlarge it)

1879_GOULD_John C. and W. V._living 254 Howard_DetroitMich
As I scroll down this page I look at each of the Gould surnames and find my family.

Gould, John C., teamster, h 254 Howard
Gould, Willard V, clk, bds 254 Howard

John C. Gould is my 2nd Great Grandfather and this information tells me where he is living as the “h” indicates home.  Willard V. Gould is another story.  John C. Gould’s son, was named Vivaldo William Gould.  He always went by William V. Gould.  So, is the Willard V. living at the same address as John, actually William V.?

I see no other names that I have proof as being related to me. 

Let's take a look at the 1881 directory.



 Here we see Gould, Wm V, color mixer Detroit White Lead Wks, h 32 Church.  I believe this is my Wm. V. because he is known to have worked in the paint industry for many years and in many records I have found.   I don’t think the John C. listed here is my ancestor.  It’s possible, as we shouldn’t ever just discount something.  However, I know that my John C. was a farmer and a teamster in every other listing, census or record I have found him in.

NOTE:  If you look at the listings on this page you can see it lists Gould, Adeline (wid Allen).  This lets you know that Adeline is the “widow” of Allen.  If you didn’t know a death date for an ancestor this would be helpful.

Now let's check one more listing for John C. & Wm. V. Gould - 1885

1885_GOULD_John C_ Detroit City directory_J.W. Weeks & Co

Here again, we see John C. and Wm. V.  This time they are both working at Acme White Lead Wks.  One is living at 368 1/2 Grand River Ave., and the other at 520 6th.

I became curious about what type of business this Acme White Lead Wks. was.  In the 1881 directory it seems to be named Detroit White Lead Wks.  Is it the same company?
I went to the pages of the directory that list information.  This is usually found at the beginning of the book.  I found on page 63 of the 1894 Detroit Directory, that they had a listing for Incorporated Companies.  There I found Acme White Lead and Color Works.

Here is the cropped information from the page I pulled up.

1894_Acme White Lead & Color Works listing in Detroit Directory_cropped ad

You can see that this is some sort of paint and/or varnish company.  They have several locations, they were incorporated on 9 Dec 1884 and they have capital of $25,000.  It also gives the names of the corporate officers. 

Working at a paint store or company is consistent with what I know my great grandfather, Wm. V. Gould did for a living for many years. 

Let’s take a look at the 1884 “Deaths in Detroit” and see what is listed.

The page states that the deaths are from Jun 1st, 1883 to May 15th, 1884.  Compiled from City mortuary reports.  Here is the first page from this section.

Detroit deaths 1884

I don’t know about you, but this sure gets me excited to look at more city directories.  

TIP: Even if you were to use the search feature at the beginning of the directory, I would still check this section.  You never know if an indexer could have missed a name.  

I hope this post has gotten you thinking about the possibilities of information available in city directories.  I’ve demonstrated with Detroit directories because I am most familiar with them.  Which now leads me to tell you that I need to begin looking at city directories for many other areas of the country.  

Let me know what you find in those directories from your ancestor’s areas.

Happy hunting,

Michigan Girl

Copyright ©  2014   Diane Gould Hall


  1. Thank you so much. I never knew about that section called, "Deaths in Detroit". You are amazing!

    1. Thanks, that’s very nice of you to say. So glad my post was helpful. 😃


I look forward to reading your comments. If you have any connection to the people mentioned in this blog, please let me know. I write about mine and my husband's ancestors and would welcome new information or meeting a new cousin or two. Thanks for visiting and come back soon.