New York City Directories – 1786 through 1923 – Going Online

The following teaser is from the New York Public Library blog.

New York City directories waiting to be digitized.
New York City directories waiting to be digitized.

New York Public Library is digitizing its collection of New York City Directories, 1786 through 1922/3, serving them free through the NYPL Digital Collections portal. The first batch—1849/50 through 1923—have already been scanned, and the 1786–1848/9 directories are right now being scanned. The whole collection will be going online over the coming months. Staff at NYPL are currently teaching computers to read the wobbly typeset, to interpret the strange abbreviations, and the occasionally slightly less than geometric layout of the directories to make the old print text machine readable. The goal is to make the directories text searchable in powerful new ways, in order to build datasets that will inform research in New York City history, genealogy, and beyond. More technical posts on this work will follow.

Read the full article. It’s an extensive blog, with lots of good information and illustrations. Written by Philip Sutton, it was posted October 5, 2016.

Thanks to my friend, Cyndi Ingle, of Cyndislist for the heads-up!

North Carolina City Directories 1860-1963 Now Online at NCDHC

Now this is cool… The NCDHS North Carolina Digital Library has now posted digitized city directories for 108 cities in 64 North Carolina counties dating from 1860 through 1963. The following teaser is from a UNC Library News and Events article posted at http://blogs.lib.unc.edu.
North-Carolina-City-Directory

Now a century’s worth of North Carolina directories is online (here) as part of the City Directories Collection from the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center (NCDHC). The collection features 939 directories from the years 1860 through 1963. They cover 108 cities in 64 counties.

The NCDHC is a statewide digital library based at the UNC Library and sponsored by the State Library of North Carolina. Through cooperative projects with libraries, museums, historical societies, and cultural institutions, it has digitized more than two million pages of North Carolina history since its founding in 2010.

The directories are a valuable tool for genealogists, historians, city planners, and anyone curious about the state’s past, said Nick Graham, program coordinator for the Center. “City directories don’t sound interesting until you realize how much is in them,” he said.

The simplest directories list residents alphabetically, along with their address and occupation. Some have a reverse-directory feature arranged by address that can help researchers understand how businesses turned over from year to year.

The most comprehensive directories contain a treasure trove of history, such as local business ads and Jim Crow-era publications that denote the race of each resident. Graham said UNC researchers studied the racial geography of Charlotte in 1911 by creating a map using the directories.

Read the full article.

Thanks to ResearchBuzz for the heads-up.

Old City Directories – Before the Internet

The following article was written by my good friend, William Dollarhide. Enjoy…

Dollarhide’s Genealogy Rule No. 42: If you took family group sheets to the last wedding you attended, you are probably an addicted genealogist.

The Internet has caused the death of many printed genealogical sources, including the annual printed city directories for most cities of America. Instead of printed directories each year, the same name lists are now published online – and there are many ways of accessing those name lists. The previous article, “Online Resources for Finding Living Relatives (Part 1 and Part 2),” identified many of the websites where white pages, yellow pages, and current city directories are found. But, the old city directories, those published before the Internet, and those still sitting in a library somewhere, are in many cases a long way away from being digitized and included on the Internet for research. There are exceptions – with Ancestry.com having posted many directories on their site. Miriam Robbins has an excellent site with links to many online directories. See: https://sites.google.com/site/onlinedirectorysite/

Old city directories are some of the most underused genealogical sources available. Yet, the old directories exist for virtually every community in America, and often to the earliest time of settlement of a community. Some of the privately published directories for a city date back over a hundred and fifty years, and some collections are nearly complete for every year in which a directory was published. Surprisingly, those that exist are quite easy to find. They are usually located in the public library serving a particular city.

When I first started in genealogy, I was living in Seattle, where I soon discovered the wonderful collection of city directories at the main Seattle Public Library. Their collection of city directories, with some gaps in the early years, dates back to 1877. (The city was founded in 1853). From about 1885 forward, the collection is complete for every year, with an annual city directory for Seattle and its environs. Each directory listed the name of a resident, an address, and sometimes more information, such as a person’s occupation. In some years, there was more than one directory from competing directory companies, and adding to the resources are Seattle telephone directories for over 60 years. The city directories provide an unmatched source for finding the exact place a person lived, and often an alternate source to identify residents for a particular time period. City directories can act as a substitute to the lost 1890 census, for example.

Virtually every city in America with a public library has a collection of city directories for that city. It was profitable for the directory companies to publish annual name lists until the population of a city exceeded one million people. After that, directories for the larger cities became regionalized into neighborhoods, suburbs, or downgraded to include just businesses or trade organizations. For example, New York City’s directories go back to the 1730s, and they are very complete through 1933, the last year a full every-name city directory was produced for Manhattan. The New York Public Library has an outstanding collection of the old city directories for all five boroughs of New York City. Similarly, Boston’s city directories at the Boston Public Library begin with directories from the 1720s.

There have been many different directory publishers, but the largest publisher of old city directories was the R. L. Polk Company, producing directories for every major city in the U.S. since 1870. The company still exists, but its business is now information services related to the automotive industry (CARFAX is a Polk operation). During the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s, the R. L. Polk Company had offices in the 50 largest cities of America, where a free library of the current city directories for that city area could be visited in person. Before the Internet, the Polk directories were the primary People-Finder service in America. Today, however, the older city directories are almost exclusively limited to public libraries, college libraries, and archives nearest to the city in question.

The Cross-Street Index
A feature found in most twentieth-century city directories is a cross-street index. The main listing of names in the book is an alphabetical listing by the names of the residents. But in the back of the book is an index according to the address of the houses, apartments, or businesses —a street index, followed by the house number and names of residents at that address. Using this feature, a city directory can be used to find the names of people living next door to a relative, providing more resources for finding information about people. People living next door ten years ago, for example, may still live there, and may still remember your relatives. This is a technique that can be used to find lost relatives.

The cross-street index is also a resource to find people whose names may have changed. For example, say a woman living alone at a particular address in 1938 disappears in the 1939 directory. But, by going to the 1939 cross-street address listing for the same address, it may be discovered that the woman remarried, is still living in the same house, and you find the new husband’s name!

Genealogy in City Directories
Since the information in city directories is far more revealing than just a name and address, a typical city directory can be a genealogical gold mine. Here is an example I found in a city directory for the town of Whatcom (now Bellingham), Washington for the year 1893:

  • Clancy, Annie (wid Patrick), res bet R R tracks nr B B & E round house.
  • Clancy, John, lab B B I Co mill
  • Clancy, Mary, clk Montague & Mchugh, bds Mrs Annie Clancy
  • Clancy, Michael, lab B B I Co mill
  • Clancy, Wm., lab B B I Co mill

The five entries above read like a family group sheet! First, the directory informs us that Annie Clancy was a widow, and her deceased husband’s name was Patrick Clancy. The Mary Clancy boarding with Annie Clancy appears to be a daughter, and the three men who all work at the same place look like sons of Annie as well.

Another later example from a 1955 city directory for Waterbury, Connecticut shows some interesting entries for the name Culotta:

  • Culotta, Augustine r 29 Crescent
  • Culotta, Charles G slsman r 29 Crescent
  • Culotta, John died June 6 1954 age 65
  • Culotta, Joseph P slsman r 29 Crescent
  • Culotta, Mariano h 42 Cooke
  • Culotta, Mary M wid John h 29 Crescent
  • Culotta, Rose M slswoman Hartford r 29 Crescent
  • Culotta, Thomas C student r 29 Crescent

The Waterbury entries tell us quite a bit about this family. First, note that an age and exact date of death for John Culotta is given, and that his widow was Mary M. Culotta, who owned a house at 29 Crescent Street in Waterbury. Also living at that address were Augustine; Charles and Joseph P. Culotta, both salesmen; Rose Culotta, a saleswoman working in Hartford; and Thomas, a student; all of whom appear to be children of John and Mary Culotta. The “r” indicates a residence/renter; while an “h” indicates a homeowner. All of the people named Culotta in 1955 in Waterbury, Connecticut lived in the same house except Mariano Culotta, who owned a house at 42 Cooke Street. But with no other people with that name in Waterbury, one could guess that Mariano was probably related to the others.

The above example directory entries demonstrate that genealogy can be found in city directories, and sometimes a surprising amount of detail will be revealed. Unlike a phone book, a city directory has more details about a person. These examples are not unique. Although I selected these examples because of the extra details they revealed, they are still fairly typical of virtually every city directory that has been published for cities and towns across the country. In some of the directories, the information may be limited to just a name, but in most of them, more details are given. Very possible items may include an age, occupation, home ownership, and names of employers.

Old City Directories on Microfilm
City directories for the 50 largest cities in America, most dating back before 1860, have been collected together and microfilmed. The collection was done by Research Publications, Inc., New Haven, CT, and they are available for sale to the public. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has this complete collection, and a particular city and directory year can be found by searching for that city in the FHL catalog. Use the FHL’s website at familysearch.org and use the keyword “city directories — (name of city)” to search for a particular city directory.

Old City Directories in Libraries
You can find a website online for just about any library in the world – go to www.worldcat.org/ a portal to the collections and services of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. At a library’s website, a search of their online catalog may be possible, and this is the place to determine what city directories that library may hold. If the information can not be learned online, a letter or email to a reference librarian in the public library for the city of interest should tell you if city directories exist for certain years. If you write, include a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE). Another way to get an address, go to your own library and ask to see the American Library Directory, published by the R. R. Bowker Co., New York. Every library in America has this directory, which lists the addresses, email, and phone numbers for all American libraries, whether public, private, special collections, college, or archives.

Although most libraries will not conduct any research for you, they should at least respond with the period of time covered by the directories. If the library will not look in a particular city directory for a name, then contact a local genealogical society and see if a volunteer is available to go to the library and do some looking for you. Most genealogical societies will do this, and there is usually a small donation to the society expected. American genealogical societies are listed in detail in The Genealogist’s Address Book, 6th Edition, by Elizabeth Petty Bentley (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc.).

Old City Directories on the Internet
www.Ancestry.com and www.WorldVitalRecords.com are the two main Internet services that are involved in acquiring databases of digitized directories. But there are many more smaller one-city or one-county directories found at the many county genealogy sites on the Internet. Rather than a direct Google search for the old directories, it may be easier to find one by first finding a website related to one county of the U.S. – the Google keywords to do this are USGenWeb (name of county) (state) or RootsWeb (name of county) (state). There is a USGenWeb or RootsWeb site for virtually every county in the U.S. If you can reach a home page for a local website of interest, you should be able to search for online databases available at that site. This is the place to learn if any old directories have been transcribed, digitized, or perhaps find those with scanned images online. Most of the city directories online, however, are merely extracts of the name lists from the old directories, usually done by volunteers of a local genealogical society.

In the previous article, “Peculiarities of the First Federal Censuses,” we mentioned Clement Biddle, the US Marshal for Pennsylvania in 1790, who was famous for borrowing the census name lists from Philadelphia and turning them into a privately published city directory in 1791. A complete facsimile of that early directory is online. Click here for a look at Clement Biddle’s 1791 Philadelphia Directory. This is fairly typical of the earliest city directories for American cities, and in most cases, the earliest historical documents online are full color images of the originals.

The New 1950 Census Substitute at Ancestry.com

One of the resources that we were informed about on January 8 when the bloggers visited Ancestry.com was the 1950 census substitute. Ancestry.com announced this last week that the resource was now posted.

This “substitute” for the yet-to-be-released 1950 census is made up of about 2500 city directories. My first foray into the collection was made right after the Ancestry.com announcement. After a half hour or so, I was so frustrated that I moved on to more important things to be done that day. This morning, I went back and spent as hour or so searching, as well as browsing through the collection, with much more success.

My frustration came about because I was searching for specific individuals that I thought might be found within the collection. I kept getting false hits during my searches because the given name and surname of the person I was looking for were often “close” to each other on the page, but were not on the same line, leaving me grinding my teeth.

This morning I tried searching by surname within specific areas with a lot more luck. I also found that browsing page by page through directories for specific towns was successful.

I did a search on the surname “Meitzler” in New York State in the 1950 Census Substitute. I got three hits. The following image is of the results page.
1950-census-sub-meitzler

By clicking on the Meitzler entry for 1946 Irondequoit, New York, I got a page that included my Uncle Frank Meitzler, his wife Ora, and their adult children Elmore, Doris, and Irene. Following is a screen shot of a page from Polk’s Irondequoit Directory for 1946.

Frank & Ora Meitzler 1946 directory

Search for your ancestors in the 1950 Census Substitute at Ancestry.com.

FTC Statement: GenealogyBlog has affiliate agreements with Ancestry.com, although I have yet to ever get a check from Ancestry, as I don’t take the time to encode my blog in such a way that I will receive any credit if someone subscribes. Ancestry.com paid for my lunch and dinner, as well as my transportation by van from SLC to Provo, and return on Blogger’s Day, January 8, 2010. They also paid for my dinner at the annual Ancestry.com dinner January 9, 2010. I am an avid Ancestry.com supporter, not because it profits me personally, but because I believe genealogists are well-served by the company. I haven’t always felt that way, but that’s another story…

Ancestry Posts Digitized German Phone Directories 1915-1981

The following news release was written by TGN staff. I will do a full review of the new database later in the week.

20th Century German Phone Books feature over 35 million names including Albert Einstein, Actress Marlene Dietrich and Hitler’s Mistress Eva Braun

PROVO, UTAH – May 8, 2009 – In a world first, Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, today launched online the German Phone Directories, 1915-1981 – a unique collection of phone books containing the names and addresses of more than 35 million people who lived in Germany’s major cities during the 20th century.

This is the first time that these phone books, which are held in paper-form at the German National Library, have been digitized and made available online.

This collection will be of international interest as for social, political, religious and economic reasons, the 20th century was a period of large scale emigration from Germany to countries such as the US, UK and Australia.
An estimated 49 million Americans (one in six) alone claim German heritage – many will be descended from German immigrants whose names can be found in these phone books.

As phone books provide an annual account of an individual’s location, they are a hugely valuable resource for tracing people’s movements around Germany before or after the two World Wars and the Great Depression, during the tyranny of the Third Reich and following Germany’s division by the Berlin Wall.

“Few countries in the 20th century have experienced the scale of social and economic change that Germany has, as many Germans moved around the country and the world before and after the two world wars,” said Josh Hanna, senior vice president of Ancestry.com International. “These directories will play a vital role for those with German heritage trying to trace their family to a particular place and time.”

The information they contain: for the cities of Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig, is especially useful when supplemented with complementary documents such as passenger lists and censuses, which can help trace individuals’ movements around the globe.

In addition to everyday Germans, the phone books contain names of some of the country’s most famous – and infamous – citizens, including:

  • Albert Einstein – The Nobel Prize winning physicist is listed in the 1930 Berlin directory as Prof. Dr. Univ. His phone number was 2807 (original image available)
  • Marlene Dietrich – The legendary actress who starred in Shanghai Express is listed in the 1930 Berlin directory living at 54 Kaiserallee. Her telephone number was H1 Pfalzburg 2142 (original image available)
  • Eva Braun – Mistress and later wife of Adolf Hitler, Ms. Braun is listed in the 1937 Munich directory living at Wasserburger Strasse. Her telephone number was 480844 (original image available)
  • Rudolf Hess – Hitler’s private secretary and later Deputy Fuhrer is listed in the 1938 Hamburg directory, which describes his title as ‘SS-Untersturmfuhrer’ (original image available)
  • Dr Karl Braun – The physicist, inventor and Nobel Prize winner travelled to the US in 1914 but was forbidden to return when America entered the First World War. He is listed in the 1915 Berlin director, with no further entries after that year. Braun died in Brooklyn, New York in 1918 (original image available)
  • Otto Lagerfeld – The father of the famous fashion designer Karl appears in the 1933 Hamburg directory living in the wealthy Elbchaussee. His telephone number was 462349. It is believed that Karl Lagerfeld still owns an exclusive villa on that street (original image available)
  • Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert von Preußen – Germany’s last Kaiser is listed in the 1915 Berlin directory residing in the Royal Castle Berlin. His phone number was 482 (original image available)

The German Phone Directories, 1915-1981 also list names and addresses for many of Germany’s major businesses operating during the 20th century, including an entry for BMW listed in Munich in 1928.

In addition to the German directories, Ancestry.com also hosts the British phone books, 1880-1984, which contain the names of more than 280 million Brits, including the phone number of heroic wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who is listed as ‘Central London – 6823’.

The German Phone Directories, 1915-1981, will be available on all Ancestry.com websites to members and through a 14-day free trial.

About Ancestry.com and The Generations Network
The Generations Network, Inc., through its flagship Ancestry.com property, is the world’s leading resource for online family history. Ancestry.com has local websites in nine countries and has digitized and put online over 8 billion names and 28,000 historical records collections over the past ten years. Since July 2006, Ancestry.com users have created 10 million family trees containing 1 billion profiles and 20 million photographs and stories. The Generations Network also includes myfamily.com, Genealogy.com, Rootsweb.ancestry.com, MyCanvas.com, dna.ancestry.com, Family Tree Maker and Ancestry Magazine. More than 9.2 million unique visitors spent over 4.7 million hours on a TGN website in March 2009 (comScore Media Metrix, Worldwide).

New at Footnote.com – Indian Census Rolls – City Directories – Civil War Widows’ Pensions – Arkansas Civil War Service Records

Footnote.comFootnote.com sent out an update today stating the new records that can be found at their site. The following items are new or updated for January. I added a listing of cities for which Footnote earlier posted city directories.

Indian Census Rolls, 1885 – 1940 57,865 images.

This title, NARA publication M595, consists of census rolls submitted annually by agents or superintendents of Indian reservations as required by an 1884 Act of Congress. Most rolls include the English and/or Indian name of the person, roll number, age or date of birth, sex, and relationship to head of family. Beginning in 1930 the rolls also show the degree of Indian blood, marital status, ward status, place of residence, and sometimes other information. Only persons who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe under Federal supervision are listed on these census rolls. There is not a census for every reservation or group of Indians for every year. Some tribes, particularly those in the East, were never under Federal jurisdiction and therefore not included in this publication.

Civil War Widows Pensions These images are being obtained by scanning the original paper documents held at the National Archives. There are currently 129,934 indexed images posted online.

The files are grouped under the soldier’s name, but the widow’s name and names of minor children are listed on the first page within the pension file. A pensioner’s name (typically the widow’s) is searchable, often giving her maiden name as well. Case files include where and when a man served, details of his service, his life before the war, and his family, including information about his widow, children, and sometimes his parents. These files are unfilmed textual records.

City Directories

  • San Francisco, California
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

These directories now join others from:

  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Detroit, Michigan
  • Ft. Wayne, Indiana
  • New York, New York
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Misc…

Civil War Union Soldier Service Records – Arkansas – 30,560 images

Compiled service records typically contain card abstracts of a soldier’s original muster and hospital rolls, descriptive books, lists of deserters, returns, notational cards, and possibly enlistment papers, casualty sheets, death reports, prisoner of war papers, and correspondence.

Civil War Confederate Soldier Service Records – Arkansas – 19,522 images.

These records contain card abstracts of entries relating to each soldier as found in original muster rolls, returns, rosters, payrolls, appointment books, hospital registers, Union prison registers and rolls, parole rolls, and inspection reports. They may also contain the originals of any papers relating solely to a particular soldier. Browse by military unit, then name of soldier, or use the search box related to this title.

Now get on over to Footnote.com and find your ancestors!