Tag Archives: city directories

Many Paths to Sources: City Directories, Part 2

Last time we looked at major online locations where you might be able to find city directories. But what happens when that does not turn up a city directory for the location you are hoping to find one? There are a couple of extra steps I take before I declare “There was no city directory!”

The first stop for me is WorldCat. WorldCat stands for the “world’s catalog.” It is a conglomeration/consolidation/consortium (I’m not sure what the exact right word is here) of libraries who participate in sharing their collection’s catalog in this larger catalog, called WorldCat. It allows users to find books, journals, articles, and other media across many, many collections, making it much easier to locate a source you are looking for.

When you go to WorldCat, you treat it just like any other library catalog. You can type in a title or keywords in the search box and get results. The fun comes in what you can do with those results. Let’s look at some results for “bowling green ohio city directory.”

WorldCat Results for “bowling green ohio city directory”

You can see at the top of the results list that there are 94 items that come back for these key words. You can see along the left some filters you can use to narrow your results if you have more specific needs. Let’s take a look at a specific directory entry and click on the 1930 Bowling Green, Ohio, directory at the bottom.

Catalog Entry for an item from the list

This page is similar to a library catalog page you’ve likely seen before. You can see the title, publisher information, subjects, and so on. WorldCat then shows you all of the libraries you can find this item in. In this particular case, only one library (well, one that participates in WorldCat, remember) has this item in their collection. It is at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus. From where I live, it is 1100 miles away. When you find an item that is located in more than one collection, you’ll be treated with a list of several libraries where the item can be located.

WorldCat also has a nice feature in that you can designate your favorite libraries, and they will pop to the top of your list. Another item from our search list is Bowling Green (Ohio) city directories on microfilm. That catalog entry looks like this:

Another entry from WorldCat showing a favorited library

This item is located at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. You can see the little heart on the left which indicates that it is one of my favorite libraries. If there are libraries you frequent, having them indicated as “favorites” brings those libraries to the top of your list and makes them easy to find. When I find items at my favorite libraries, I often add them to the research list for the next time I visit that facility.

Let’s refer back to number 1 in the first results screen above. It is for Bowling Green, Ohio city directory by Johnson Publishing Company. Here is the catalog entry:

WorldCat entry

You can see there are only two locations that have this particular series of directories in WorldCat, Bowling Green State University and SEO Automation Consortium. However, having been to the Wood County District Public Library myself, I know they have a whole bunch of city directories for Bowling Green. Let’s look at their catalog:

Wood County District Public Library Catalog

They have the Johnson city directories starting in 1975. Examining their other catalog entries reveals that they have a large number of directories, covering a wide range of years. They are not a participating library with WorldCat. In fact, their website has a Local History and Genealogy section detailing some of the resources they have that could be of use to genealogists.

WCDPL Website showing the Local History & Genealogy page

My point with this is, use WorldCat, but don’t stop there. Your next step, if you don’t find what you are looking for in WorldCat is to look at a local public library. Most often, I find these directories in those small, local libraries. Very often they have a local history and/or genealogy room. If you don’t find it in a catalog, give the library a call or send an email. I have found most of these repositories and their employees to be quite helpful. They are likely to be able to make copies or have a system for requesting copies. Or you might need to find a volunteer to help you or pay a local genealogists to look for you if you can’t make it yourself. Some items might be available via interlibrary loan.

Just don’t stop looking.

Many Paths to Sources: City Directories

Commonly called “city directories” but for my purposes, that is a bit of a misnomer. When I talk about “city” directories, I also include rural route, agricultural, and other directories that put people in a time and place, often on an annual basis. City directories don’t often give a ton of information, but they put your ancestor in a location in years between the census.

City directories have a long history. A fantastic blog post titled “Direct Me NYC 1786: A History of City Directories in the United States and New York City,” posted by the New York Public Library indicates that the first precursors to city directories were published in England in the 1500s; the oldest surviving print directory was published in 1677 in London; and a manuscript directory¬†A Directory for the City of New York in 1665, compiled shortly after the British colonized New Amsterdam. Read this blog post if you are interested in the history of city directories.

Cities across the U.S. had directories published. Whether or not they were well preserved is another matter. And, keep in mind, there were directories for many topics, avocations, clubs, religious organizations, and so on, that can be utilized in the absence of a traditional city directory.

1871 Toledo, Ohio City Directory

I have a few “first stops” when I’m looking for a city directory in a particular location before I widen my search:

Do not skip reading through this useful research guide at the Library of Congress – “United States: City and Telephone Directories.”

If I don’t find what I’m looking for in the above list, then I start digging deeper. We will do that digging next week.