Genealogy Research Tip: Why I Love Directories

[This article is by Diana Crisman Smith for Research Write Connect]

I must admit, I do love directories for genealogy. Not just city directories, but any kind of directory.

City directories are the best for some purposes, but there are so many other “cool” things available. Here are a few of my favorite things:

  • Tracking a person (or family) through time.
  • Finding interesting juxtapositions of time and place.
  • Learning new facts - for example, residence or occupation.
  • Gaining context.
  • Picking up clues for further investigation.
  • Finding addresses for property searches; or finding the exact location of a farmer from a rural directory.

So what do I mean? Here are just a few examples from my research.

In Des Moines, Iowa, city directory for the year I was born, I found that my grandparents showed 5 residents. Now, I remember that house well - adding the three of us to my grandparents, we barely fit in it for a weekend until I was in junior high and they added on to the house! At the time, I asked my mother, “what’s up with that?” It turns out that when I was born, it was very difficult for her. The doctor ordered her not to climb stairs for a few months. Our apartment was a 2nd floor walkup. So we stayed at my grandparents overnight, then my father went to work, checked on the apartment and had lunch, picked up the mail, and joined us for dinner. It was indeed cozy. The house was about 400 square feet. Fascinating bit of trivia? By the way, this was a census year, so I’m anxious to find out how that was recorded! Another lead to further research.

In another Des Moines, Iowa, city directory, for 1935, I found my mother’s step-mother Marguerite (her father Everett’s 3rd wife) with her first husband, David, living on S.W. 14th Street. She also has her own beauty shop on S.W. 9th Street. I was curious where this might be, so I checked the cross street for the address - it was at Boulder Avenue. I had to giggle. My grandmother, Jessie (who was married to Everett in 1935 and divorced in 1937) married Harry. They built a house in 1940 on Boulder Avenue, just a few houses off S.W. 9th Street! Marguerite’s shop was gone by then (she married Everett in 1938), but the coincidence is wild! By the way, I traced the marriages of Everett (3 wives), Marguerite (2 husbands), and Jessie (2 husbands), as well as the additional marriages of their spouses through the Des Moines city directories from 1930 through 1950. Addresses (so property records?), occupations, employers, and confirmation of approximate marriage dates!

Remember that yearbooks are also directories, and now Ancestry has lots of them online. I found a picture of my mother - one of the first female cheerleaders in her high school.

Now do you see why I LOVE directories?

Join me for my course, Using City Directories for Genealogical Research: Our Windows to Lives in the Past, at the Research Write Connect Academy and you can learn to use them efficiently so you will love them too.

Register by 14 September 2020 and save 30% on this course (and all other courses). Use the promo code LEARN30 at checkout.

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