Friday, April 20, 2012

Clues in City Directories

I'm sure all genealogists have used city directories to trace families from year to year. While the federal census comes around but once a decade, directories were often published every year or two, depending on the city and time period. The information provided in the directory is therefore potentially very valuable. For those ancestors who only briefly lived somewhere in between census years, the city directory may be your only opportunity to tie them to a particular location. I have also used them to help confirm family relationships and even to confirm a suspected death.

One of my people is census-shy, at least after marrying into my family. The only place I have found him after marriage is in the St. Louis city directory. While I found a man of the appropriate age in the 1880 census I couldn't be sure it was my John H. Hubler. By following John backward through city directories I tied him to the suspected father from the 1880 census when I found them living at the same address just before John appeared on his own. While that was a happy moment I would rather have found John in the 1900 census (my only chance to find the family together before John's wife died in 1903).

The city directory has been helpful in tracing the Hubler family in another instance. I had managed to find a birth record for one of John and Emma's children, Mildred (Emma's obituary in the Kalamazoo Gazette stated there were three children). Mildred Hubler turned up in the St. Louis city directory in 1913 (at about age 17), but not alone. An Alice and Donald Hubler were in the same household and they stayed together through 1916. I suspect they may be Mildred's siblings, but as they seem to be just as census-shy as their father, I may never know for certain.

I have also used city directories to confirm a death. I had a possible death record for a Charles McGinnis, but I wasn't sure he was my Bridget's husband, Charles. By looking in city directories, I was able to find Charles up until the year of suspected death at which point Bridget appeared, listed as the widow of Charles. I later confirmed this with information from Charles' Civil War pension application file.

One final example involves the 1883 Kalamazoo census. I found a William Flynn (a blacksmith) living with my relative Lawrence Flynn. I had always wondered who he was as I never found him in any other Kalamazoo records. I later determined through newspapers, death and census records that William and Lawrence were cousins.

I hope you have similar luck in tracking down some of your elusive ancestors using clues from city directories.
To begin looking for your family in Kalamazoo city directories start at

For more ideas on what else you can find about your ancestors (and community in general in city directories) read my post More Than Just Names.  I also list repositories for Kalamazoo city directories and some from neighboring counties.

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