Monday, March 01, 2021

Tip - How do I find my ancestors who lived in the city?


One good place to look is in City Directories.  These were usually published annually and contain information about residents of a given city.   While most large cities had directories, often smaller towns would publish one as well.  Occasionally, a county would publish a similar type of directory.

Information in a city directory often included the address of the person, their telephone number (in later directories), and their occupation.  While all included the name of the head of household, some also listed the wife’s name.  City directories were often arranged in both an alphabetical and a geographical listing.  Thus, it was easy to tell who the neighbors were.  Businesses were also listed in the geographical listing.  Often, local businesses would advertise in the directory, so be sure to look in the advertisements if your ancestor owned a business. 

Because directories were published yearly, they can be helpful in tracking people between census years.  If someone “disappears” from a directory, they may have moved to another location or died. 

City Directories can be found online at Family Search, or Ancestry.  Again, they could be for a large city such as Chicago, or smaller cities such as Peoria, Moline, Princeton or Shelbyville.  Another good place to find city directories is at the local library in the city of interest.  Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library also has a large collection of directories from around Illinois.


Note: This was originally published in the "Tips from the Genealogy Committee" column in the Illinois State Genealogical Society Newsletter (January 2021).  While these tips were written for those researching Illinois ancestors, many of the principles can be applied to other locations.

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