Using City Directories to research your family history

City directories provide a wealth of information that can help you with your family history research.  Published annually, they consist of alphabetical listings of residents, with their home address and, often, their occupation. Beginning in 1882 in Portland, Maine, they also include an alphabetical listing of streets along with the residents (heads of household) at each address.  The directories also list businesses, organizations, associations, the names and addresses of teachers, fire department officials, and various state, county, and city officials and administrators.

 

Here is a sample listing from 1920 and how to decode it:

Amburg Angus (Annice) stevedore h 152 Newbury

Angus Amburg and his wife Annice lived at 152 Newbury Street. Angus worked as a stevedore. They might have had children, but there is no other Amburg listed with the same address, so it is unlikely there were any adult male children living with them at the time. (Here is where you would have to consult other sources, such as the 1920 Census, for example, to flesh out the picture.)

 

A few notes of caution:

*Women were not listed in early directories, unless the woman was widowed or owned her own business.

*They may contain spelling or transcription errors.  For example, the 1920 directory shows that Fabbio Ciconi lived at 8 Newbury Street. The address listing for 8 Newbury, however, lists a Tabbio Cicome. Same man? Probably, but as with any research, you will want to keep your critical senses sharp.

*Many streets in Portland were renumbered in the 1870s.

*And, finally, listen to the tone of exasperation in the introduction to the 1895 edition, written by the publishers:  “Our canvassers meet with many obstacles.  Addresses that are right to-day are wrong to-morrow, and persons fail to report changes when made after they have been visited.  Persons whose judgment should teach them the folly of such a course are careless about giving information…”

 

That said, there is still an abundance of information to be had from the Directories. Be prepared to spend some time, though – they can be strangely addictive!

 

The Portland Room has Portland City Directories from 1823 to the present (with some missing years), as well as a few Directories for the islands and surrounding towns.

posted: , by Gabrielle Daniello
tags: Genealogy
View Posts by Date:
Filter Posts:
Connect with the Library: