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Cliff Lamere  (22 Sep 2000)


My experience with city directories is based on my use of the Troy, NY City Directories at the Troy Public Library (main branch, which has a genealogy room and directories back to 1829).  There is no guideline to tell one how to use them, or even how a person got listed in the directory.  Nevertheless, they were a great resource.  Directories for other cities may be designed the same way.  


I suspect that people who had a job were almost the only ones listed in a city directory.  I think the employers supplied the information that went into the directories.  In addition to the name of a person, other things mentioned were their home address and occupation.  Sometimes the place of employment was given.  Some people are listed with h. or house in their entry.  Others are listed as boarders or roomers.  


If a person is listed as a boarder and lives at the same address as another person by the same surname, it is likely that the boarder is a child of the person whose residence it is.  This is not infallible.  It could be a nephew, niece, or grandchild, of course, but these are much less likely options.  Adult children "boarded". 

In Troy, when a worker died, the date of death was usually given, a sort of announcement explaining why they wouldn't be listed in the next directory, I believe.   The directories did not come out at the very beginning of the year (my impression from having worked with them) and so some death notices got published in the year of the death while others did not get published until the following year. 


At least once, I saw a cemetery listed after the date of death.  It may have been in a directory for a different city.


If a working woman got married, and as a result, she was leaving the city to be with her husband, her new husband's name was often given, as well as the city to which they were moving.  If a single person or a resident married couple moved out of the city, a directory often told where they were going. 

If a man died, his wife is often listed in the following directory as his widow, and then her name is listed as widow each year after that even though no occupation is given.  She was apparently unemployed.

Here is an example of how helpful city directories can be.  I was tracking one man who went from Troy to Pittsfield, MA. His descendents did not know where he had disappeared to, but the directory told me the name of the city.  I went to Pittsfield and looked him up.  The Pittsfield directories told me his 10+ addresses and the names of the companies which employed him for the next 30 years (for most years it was General Electric).  Then a directory even gave me his date of death (and possibly the cemetery name as well). 

If you look at these directories for every year that a family lived in the city, you learn when the children in a family got old enough to have a job. This may give you a hint of about when they were born.

You need to look at every year to do a thorough job.  For example, a working woman may not have been listed for a year or two after she had a child, but then her name may reappear when she returned to the ranks of the employed.  Sometimes a child will only be listed for one year before leaving the family.  Sometimes a child will move back in with the parents when they found that it was difficult to make it on their own.  Or, uncle Dave may appear for a brief time.  You will sometimes miss something important unless you examine every year.


City directories can be used in conjuction with censuses.  If you consult the directory first to get an address, it will save you much time when looking for a person in a city census.


Abbreviations: many are explained at the beginning of the listings.  However, some are not. 


h = house or residence (used for the head of household.  

       I am not sure if this includes renting an apartment.)

do = ditto 


It took a full year of using directories to discover that 'do' was once a common method of abbreviating ditto.  People had told me that it meant residence (domicile ).  Later, I even found 'do' used on censuses.


Examples of the use of 'do' for ditto:

   Wolfe, Arthur, driver, 289 First, rooms do.

          (he works and lives at the same place)

   Wolff, John, porter, Revere house, boards do.

          (he works, lives, and eats at the same place)

   Wolff, Aaron, tailor, 712 River, house do.

          (his tailor shop is at his home)




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