There are several different types of directories that can help you with your genealogical research. The directories that you are probably most familiar with are the telephone and city directories that list who lives in a particular area. However, you can also find directories that list the people who belonged to a particular profession, club, or ethnic group. This topic tells you how directories may help you in your research. Select any of the topics listed at the bottom of this topic to get more complete descriptions of what types of directories exist and where to find them.
The basic city directory can help you locate an individual in a specific time period. When you know your ancestors' addresses, it can be fun to drive by and look at their old homes. In some city directories you can also find information such as children's names, marriage dates, death dates, and birth dates.
But, sometimes other types of directories can provide you with even more interesting information about your ancestors. For example, a church directory may tell you about an individual's involvement in church activities, professional directories may give you an insight into your ancestor's professional life, and club directories can contain information about your ancestor's involvement in social activities.
In addition to finding out about your ancestors, you can use current directories and telephone books to help you find living relatives. By using directories, you may not only increase the size of your family tree, but also increase the number of invitations you send out for family reunions!
Types of directories
There are many different types of directories, but all of them fall into two categories: address directories and group directories. An area's address directory includes everyone in that area with an address. Group directories include specific groups of people such as doctors, lawyers, or military personnel. The best thing to do before you even start to look for an ancestor in a directory is to consult the Directory of Directories, by James A. Ethridge. You can find this book in most major libraries. It can help you find a directory that may have exactly what you are looking for.
We are most familiar with the common telephone directory. This directory is quite helpful in locating living relatives or possible relatives with the same surname or a similar surname. The phone company in each city in the United States publishes a directory of everyone in that area who has a phone number. Plus, you can locate relatives or possible relatives in most countries outside the United States by using published phone directories of foreign cities. Many larger libraries have foreign telephone directories.
When the telephone was invented in 1876, only 3 people had telephones. For that reason, early telephone directories may not be very helpful in locating an ancestor. A better place to look for ancestors from earlier time periods is in city directories. These directories can date all the way back to the early nineteenth century.
City directories can be most helpful when you are trying to locate an ancestor in the census, but cannot locate that person in a census index. (This may be because census indexes after 1860 are somewhat incomplete.) A city directory can often guide you to the correct census year. Many people also use city directories to guide them to death and probate records, naturalization records, land records, and church records. In fact, city directories often identify the name of the clergyman who officiated at a wedding ceremony. This information can lead you straight to the actual church records.
In addition to city directories and telephone directories, there are also professional directories, civil and military service directories, religious directories, college-related directories, and county and regional business directories.
Professional directories include directories for people such as doctors and lawyers. They will most often include information relating to that individual's history in the profession, as well as other biographical information. Professional directories will enable you to learn more about an individual's professional career, help you locate a person in time, and may even lead you to other records to search.
Civil and military service directories exist for civil, military, and naval officers and agents of the U.S. They most often contain information such as name, office, pay, place of birth, place of residence, and the state from which the person was appointed. There are also other more detailed registers for both military and naval officers. Like professional directories, civil and military service directories can lead you to sources that will provide you with more information about the person you are researching.
Religious directories, as well as many other directories, have gone through their share of change and development. In a modern sense, these directories list at least the name of the church and its pastor. Depending on the denomination, you will find varying amounts of information. At best, a religious directory can tell you the name of the place where your ancestor worshipped, enabling you to locate other more important religious records.
College directories include both university alumni directories and fraternity directories. Alumni directories contain a listing of individuals who attended a particular university, the year that they graduated, and their degree. The kind of information available in fraternity directories can vary quite a bit. You may find only the addresses of various fraternal branches, or you could find the dates of membership or birth and death dates. If you can find information about your ancestor in one of these directories, you may be able to locate other records within these organizations which can provide insight into the life of your ancestor.
Business directories were usually organized by county, and depending on the time period, vary in the amount of information they contain. Often, you'll find advertisements for certain businesses in these directories. They might also contain information such as dates and places of birth, dates of marriage, names of children, length of residence in the town, and other valuable information.
How to find directories
Most types of directories are available at any major record center or even a local library. In addition, your local Chamber of Commerce can help you locate directories. The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, also have large collections of directories. For information about these two libraries, see the topic Libraries with a national focus, including LDS. Below is a description of where to locate common types of directories.
Telephone directories can be found in almost any library in the United States. You can most often find them in book form and in microfiche form. There is, however, an easier way to find the names, addresses, and numbers of living relatives and possible relatives -- on CD-ROM phone discs. CD-ROM phone discs normally contain names and addresses for the entire United States. These discs could enable you to find relatives much more quickly and easily than if you were looking through hundreds of microfiche copies of city phone books. Check with your local library to see if they have CD-ROM phone discs. You can also purchase phone discs from private companies. Check with your local software retailer or software catalogs.
City directories can also be found at most major record centers and libraries. Libraries, state archives, and historical societies usually have a large collection of city directories from around the state as well as some directories for large cities outside the state. In addition, you'll find major collections of city directories at the Library of Congress, the American Antiquarian Society, located in Massachusetts, and the LDS Family History Library. These directories can be found in paper form and in microfilm form.
Techniques on how to find professional directories will vary depending on the type of directory. Law directories used to be kept on the local and state levels. Today, you'll find most law directories on a national level (except for those coming out of large metropolitan areas). You can locate these directories in most law libraries, large public libraries, local and state bar associations, the Library of Congress, and from the publishing companies that published the directories.
Medical directories were not published consistently, so you may find that certain years aren't covered. Because of this, it may be a good idea to check local business directories and city directories for lists of doctors. Medical directories are organized on a state level, and current issues can be found in most medical school libraries. The Eccles Health Science Library at the University of Utah and the Library of Congress each have a collection of all the directories that are open to the public. In addition, you may find older issues of medical directories through local and state medical associations.
The Library of Congress keeps all recent civil and military directories. You can find older directories at the National Archives. For information about the National Archives, see the topic The National Archives and regional centers. In addition, all state archives and libraries keep copies of these directories.
Religious directories can most often be located in a particular denomination's church archives. You may also have luck searching for these directories in a particular denomination's seminary or training libraries. Local libraries may also contain directories of denominations in the area, and university libraries that were once denominational have a good chance of having records such as these. In addition, you can always try the Library of Congress or your state archives or library.
College directories can most often be found in university libraries or by contacting the national headquarters of the organization involved. You may even find that the Library of Congress has the college directories you are looking for.
You'll have luck locating business directories in local public libraries, state libraries, the Library of Congress, the LDS Family History Library, and private directory libraries.