City directories are valuable resources for learning about ancestors–and collateral relatives–in the late 19th and 20th centuries. When I started out in genealogy almost 20 years ago, I had to visit archives and libraries that held printed copies of city directories in their collections to do this type of research. One repository, the Cuyahoga County Archives, had an extensive set of Cleveland (Ohio) City Directories, but they, of course, were printed on inexpensive paper, and they were disintegrating at a rapid rate. Many pages crumbled into paper fragments that ended up on the floor.
Fortunately, a great number of city directories were microfilmed during the heyday of microfilm technology in the middle decades of the 20th century, so they were preserved in a usable form. In recent years, those microfilms have been digitized, and thus city directories resources became more user friendly.
Today, you can do research in these digitized city directories online using various database providers. My favorite is Ancestry.com. You can learn about researching in City Directories on Ancestry by viewing a 17-min video if you go here: City Directories and How to Use for Family History.
Recently, as a test case for searching in the All U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 collection, I entered Wallace Dingman in the search window that comes up for the collection. I could have entered more detail, but for this test, I kept it simple.
The search came up with 28 results for Wallace Dingman residing in various localities on various dates ranging from 1886 in Battle Creek, Michigan, to 1928 in San Francisco, to 1941 in Buffalo, New York. Bingo on that last location! It was for my uncle, Wallace B Dingman, living in Buffalo in 1941 with spouse Betty E Dingman. The entry informs us that the family was living at 78 MIdway ave, and that Uncle “Ding” was working as a supervisor at Curtis Wright Corp. Interestingly, there were 11 other Dingman listings in this particular Buffalo directory, but to my knowledge, no others were close relatives.
I clicked on the side panel offering details about the collection and learned that the directories contained in this database can be browsed. This would be useful if you believe that someone who should have been included, but was not, perhaps because the OCR (optical character recognition) process used in creating the collection misread the name of your ancestor. The individual publications are arranged alphabetically, so browsing is easy to do once you call up the appropriate directory using the browsing search window below:
U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989
This database is a collection of city directories for various years and cities in the U.S. Generally a city directory will contain an alphabetical list of its citizens, listing the names of the…
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Give city directory research a try. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.