This database is a collection of directories for U.S. cities and counties in various years. The database currently contains directories for all states except Alaska.
Generally a city directory will contain an alphabetical list of citizens, listing the names of the heads of households, their addresses, and occupational information. Sometimes a wife's name will be listed in parentheses or italics following the husband's. Other helpful information might include death dates for individuals who had been listed in the previous year's directory, names of partners in firms, and forwarding addresses or post offices for people who had moved to another town.
Using the Records
To see what cities and years are currently available, use the browse table to the right. Begin by selecting a state, then city or county of interest. Once you do that you'll be able to see all the years currently available for that location. When you access a directory, use the page forward function in the image viewer to find the table of contents so you can see what types of information are available in the directory.
This collection was created using a new OCR indexing method that improves searching and results. The records were not transcribed. We believe that this version of the U.S. City Directories database is substantially better than the collection that has been available on Ancestry for several years under the same name. Because this collection uses OCR technology, we encourage you to correct any errors you find in the data by going to the image and editing the name in the correction panel at the bottom of the page.
Why use city directories?
City directories are useful for placing people in a particular place at a particular time. They typically tell you where an ancestor lived and worked and can help you locate ancestors in census years. They can also lead you to nearby churches, cemeteries, and municipalities, where you can look for more records created while your ancestor lived in this location.
What is in a city directory?
There are usually several parts to a city directory. The section of most interest, of course, is the alphabetical listing of names, where you may find your ancestor.
In addition to the alphabetical portion, a city directory may also contain a business directory, street directory, government directory, and listings of town officers, schools, societies, churches, post offices, and other miscellaneous matters of general and local interest. These sections can help you become more familiar with the city or county your ancestor lived in. If your ancestor owned a business, be sure to check the business section for advertisements.
Whenever you use a directory, it is important to refer to the page showing abbreviations used in the book. Some abbreviations are quite common, such as h for home or r for residence. There may even be a subtle distinction between r for residents who are related to the homeowner and b for boarders who are not related. Becoming familiar with these abbreviations will help you better interpret your ancestor’s listing.
Some city directories list adult children who lived with their parents but who were working or going to school. Look for people with the same surname residing at the same address. If analyzed and interpreted properly, these annual directories can tell you (by implication) which children belong to which household, when they married and started families of their own, and when they established themselves in business.
Once you find your ancestors in a city directory, use what you learn to find them in other sources, such as censuses, death and probate records, church records, naturalization records, and land records.