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Ancestry is home to an extensive collection of city and county directories, as well as telephone books, professional directories, church centennial books, school lists, and yearbooks. City and county directories typically contain entries for working family members and include name, occupation, and home and business addresses. Early phone books may contain similar information in addition to the phone number.
Church histories and records may include indexes to parish records and in some cases, actual church records. The collection also includes many church histories and centennial books, which can contain the names of members of the congregation, as well as historical background information on the origins of the church.
Also among the collections in this category are school alumni lists and yearbooks which can be rich in details about your ancestor's school experience and may even include a photograph.
Professional directories most often list members of specific professions such as medicine or law. They often include biographical information and a short paragraph of the person's history within the profession. Like professional directories, organizational directories are lists of a specialized nature such as names of university alumni or members of fraternities. They may include addresses as well as dates of birth and death.
Directories and member lists typically contain the name of the person and address, and in the case of city directories you will also learn their occupation.
These records are helpful in placing your ancestor in a specific location in a particular year. Other collections in this category include church histories, church records, alumni lists, yearbooks, professional directories, and phone books.
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- City directories are very useful in tracking your ancestors’ residences in between census years. Ancestry’s directory collections cover cities in many countries. To find the city you need, try browsing the consolidated directory collection for the United States or use the filter options in the Card Catalog to find directories for a specific country or state.
- If you can’t find a city directory for the small town where your ancestor lived, try checking directories of larger nearby cities to see whether your ancestor’s smaller town might have been included there.
- Only search for your ancestor’s surname. Since the entries are alphabetical you’ll see all of the people with that surname and you don’t run the risk of missing your ancestor if his given name is abbreviated.
- In collections that contain directory images, be sure to use both the browse and search functions. Browsing lets you view a directory page-by-page as you would if you were looking at the actual book. Check the table of contents to see what types of information were included. You may find street directories, lists of advertisements (which may include your ancestor’s business), lists of government officials, charitable organizations, churches, cemeteries, hotels, maps, and much more. The table of contents is your guide to the contents and using the page numbers found in the index, you can navigate easily to sections of interest.
- Remember that many people share the same names, so when you find your ancestor in a city directory, be sure to use other sources like censuses or family records to confirm that the address and occupation match.
- Once you’ve found your ancestor in a directory, take the time to look at the addresses and occupations of other people who share their surname. You might find relatives living in neighboring houses or working in the same industry.
- Make a note of the name, date, and publisher of the city directories you review, and also the names you checked for. In some cities, multiple directories may have been published for the same year. If your ancestor isn’t listed in one directory, you may find them in another, so it’s important to keep a record of which directories you’ve already searched to keep from duplicating your research.
- Widows are often noted as such, so by locating the last directory in which the husband appeared and the first directory listing the wife as "widow of" it’s possible to narrow down the husband’s date of death.
- Once you’ve located an ancestor in a city directory, enter the street address (in quotes) into the keyword field. This will bring up other residents of that address, which may include in-laws and other family members.
- Use the Card Catalog to search for collections like church histories, yearbooks, and alumni lists. Entering your ancestor’s town name in the keyword field and selecting the Directories and Member List category from the collections filter will help you zero in on collections of interest.