Document Detective: City Directories
Learn what genealogy research clues are in your ancestor's city directory listing.
City directories have been published in the United States since the 1700s. They provided a way for people to connect with one another, and find businesses and organizations in their area. Today, you can use them to learn about your ancestors and their neighborhoods. They even can help you construct family relationships.

Directories usually came out every year or two. The format and contents vary by location, time period and publisher. Most directories list people by surname; some are arranged by address or have a “cross listing” by street in the back. Residents may be listed separately from businesses and organizations, or combined, as in this 1913 directory from Rome, Ga. In some places, primarily in the South before 1960, African-Americans were listed in a separate section. You’ll also see businesses’ ads.