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 Ancestry.com. 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.
|RESULTS OF MY SEARCH FOR DETROIT DIRECTORIES|
When I select the highlighted 1884 directory this is what comes up on the screen.
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.
LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT SOME OF THE THINGS WE CAN LEARN FROM A CITY DIRECTORY
- 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
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 DETROIT CITY DIRECTORY LISTING FOR GOULD|
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 DIRECTORY LISTING|
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.
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.
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.
Copyright © 2014 Diane Gould Hall