Tag Archives: pre-research

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.

Many Paths to Sources: Newspapers, Part 3b

So, what do we do when newspapers are not digitized, like those I mentioned in the last post that are on microfilm at the Wood County (Ohio) District Public Library? There are some options, not all are going to work for each case. Each library will have different services, policies, etc. that might interfere with some of my suggestions. Your task is to figure out which might work with your situation.

  • Does the library offer any kind of look-up or research service that you can take advantage of? Sometimes they will have a free (for a limited amount) or a free service if you have enough information to point them to a few days in a newspaper. If the service they offer is free, please send a small donation as a thank you!
  • If the library does not offer a look-up service, does the library work with a local genealogical or historical society who might do look-ups? Check the library website for such a connection. Also, look at the local society websites as well. Some societies have look-up/research services for a fee to earn some money for their society. Again, consider adding a donation to your fee as a thank you for this service.
  • Is interlibrary loan a possibility? Before you assume it isn’t for newspapers on microfilm, let me point to you to the Ohio History Connection website. They offer interlibrary loan on their newspapers on microfilm! I don’t see this option often, so my point is: LOOK at what services are available for a given repository.
ILL section at the Ohio History Connection website.
  • You may locate a professional genealogist in the area to do your research for you. Sometimes the local genealogical and historical societies, archives, and libraries might offer a list of researchers available for hire for a particular repository. For example, when I lived near Austin, Texas, I was on the list of proxy researchers for the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Look for such a list at the repository you are needing to access. There are also directories available from both the Association of Professional Genealogists, Board for Certification of Genealogists, and International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGEN) that might offer a genealogist in your area of need.
  • Finally, as the world opens up to us again and travel becomes safer, consider taking a trip to these locations. I know that this is not always feasible, you may only need one newspaper article in one far-flung area. I keep lists of things I need in various locations, and if it isn’t a critical piece for a project, I wait. When that list gets “big enough” and perhaps I can conjure up another reason to go visit that location (or nearby), I like to take trips. I like to do the research myself. If waiting to take a trip is not going to work, then one of the other suggestions will, I hope.

I have been able to access just about everything I need using one of the methods described above. I’d also like to point out that usually there is more than one run of those microfilm in other locations. For example, the Daily Sentinel Tribune from Bowling Green, Ohio is also available on microfilm at the Center for Archival Collections on the Bowling Green State University Campus.

CAC Newspaper list showing the Sentinel-Tribune.

CAC also offers interlibrary loan.

CAC website showing Interlibrary Loan as an option.

If one library or archive does not have what you need, look at another. At some point you will find a way to access what you are looking for.

Many of the principles shared in the last several blog posts are going to apply to any resource. However, we will look at some other types of resources and ways to access them. The biggest favor you can do for yourself, is to keep looking. Just because you get stopped at one repository does not mean there aren’t other options. Keep looking.

Building a Locality Guide: The Basics

When we are working on our genealogical research and we discover an ancestor came from a different place, an unfamiliar place, a new county, state, or country, do we stop researching because we don’t know anything about that place? No, of course not. We dive right in! Looking for databases for that place where we can plug in our names and find the answers. However, that is not necessarily the most efficient way to start research in a new area, especially if it is an area where you may be conducting a lot of research over time. I like to create a locality guide for these new locations.

You could call a locality guide by other names: a toolbox, a resource guide, a quick sheet. Whatever you decide to call it, a locality guide is what I like to call the “pre-research.” You encounter a new location on a document. Perhaps a death certificate indicates that an ancestor was born in a county and state where you have little or no previous experience. Most genealogists will just jump into the records and online sources, excited for what they might find. And that’s ok for a quick look, but if your research is going to be focused in that location for any amount of time, you want to be most efficient with that time. 

There are many ways you could organize this “pre-research.” I’m going to share the way I do it, but it is not the only or “right” way, by any means. Take any tips from this series that you like and adapt this to something that works for you.

My locality guides have four parts: Historical Background, Geography, Records, and Repositories. You can collect this information in a number of formats. I recommend collecting it in an electronic document (i.e. word processor, spreadsheet, or a tool like Evernote) which will lend itself to creating clickable links for online resources. Having this guide will allow you to quickly look up valuable information, databases, and references. As you conduct your research you will invariably learn more that can be added to your guide.

The first page of my Wood County, Ohio locality guide, first started in 2012.

Over the next several blog posts, I will share some of the more in-depth inner workings of my guides and some tips for making them easier, more efficient, and useful for your research.