Everyone wants to find that clue that can help to break a genealogy brick wall wide open. Sometimes it’s a letter from a relative’s attic, maybe a photograph, or information found in a city directory. A city directory? What’s that you may be asking? City directories were created and distributed by cities, towns, and counties across the United States. Pre-dating the telephone, these listings helped to find where people were living in a specific area. Unlike telephone books, city directories included more than just addresses. You can find spouse names, forwarding addresses for people who moved, and even death dates.
The Midwest Genealogy Center and the Mid-Continent Public Library have lots of resources to help you find and use city directories. HeritageQuest online, one of MCPL’s databases, provides access to United States city directories from 1821-1989. Remember that this does not mean that you will be able to find a city directory for every year in that range; but you’ll be surprised at how many you find. I was able to find death information on two separate ancestors using HeritageQuest’s city directories. These clues enabled me to find death certificates for both individuals and provided great research help! Another useful feature of HeritageQuest is that you can access it from home using an MCPL Access Pass.
If you are visiting MGC, we have resources available in house to help your city directory searches. MGC has a number of original city directories available in hard copy or on microfilm. To see what is in the city directory collection, browse the Missouri Directories--City, County, State, Telephone guide or the US and Foreign Directories--City, County, State, Telephone guide. MGC also provides access to Ancestry Library Edition, an in-library use only database, which has a city directory collection.
Next time you have an ancestor who seems to have disappeared; check a city directory. You never know what information you might find. Do you have a city directory success story to share?
Midwest Genealogy Center