The August round of Family Tree University courses began yesterday, but there’s still time to sign up for this session! Of particular interest is Exploring City Directories: How to Trace Your Family in Yesterday’s Yellow Pages. Course instructor Patricia Van Skaik is a genealogy librarian, so she really knows her stuff. Read this excerpt of a case study from the class to see for yourself:
An 1846 Cincinnati city directory reveals that photographer Charles Fontayne operated a business in Cincinnati in 1845. In fact, in the 1840s and early 1850s he did not live in Cincinnati, but instead one mile across the river in Newport, Ky. However, he did not appear in any US census schedules until 1860.
William S. Porter’s family knew he moved to Cincinnati by 1850, but knew little about him before then, including his reason for migrating to Cincinnati. The 1849 directory reveals Porter’s arrival about a year after Fontayne’s, and shows Porter becoming Fontayne’s business partner in a photography studio.
The photographic method of the time, the daguerreotype, was extraordinarily expensive and could only be supported by a large and prosperous city. Cincinnati was the sixth largest city in the United States, just behind Baltimore, and very cosmopolitan as revealed through the wide range of products, including luxury goods, advertised in the directories. Photographers were an elite group with only eight listed in the 1850 Cincinnati directory.
Applying the cluster strategy to the business associates led to looking for connections between Fontayne and Porter before their partnership in Cincinnati. Baltimore city directories from the early 1840s show Fontayne and Porter as business partners there. We can conclude that Porter followed Fontayne to continue the business, a successful endeavor as demonstrated by their ornate advertisement.
The Fontayne and Porter case study illustrates several of key concepts of delving deeper into city directories:
- Use the cluster strategy with co-workers. Business associates may have worked together elsewhere prior to their arrival in their current city.
- Chain migrationone individual traveling ahead to be joined later by anothercan apply to occupational groups.
- Business location is important and strategically chosen.
- Business owners may have lived in a different city or state.
- Read between the years and compare information about the industry and your ancestor.
- Look to advertisements for further information about the ancestor or company, including its target audience and prosperity.
- Identification in a city directory points to new leads for genealogical sources.