How to Find and Use City Directories for Genealogy

By David A. Fryxell

Q. The last record I can find of my father-in-law’s half sister is a 1930 census record from Los Angeles. The library suggested I use city directories, but I live in the Midwest. How would I find and use Los Angeles directories?

A. City directories can be terrific resources when you’re tracing ancestors between censuses, census records are missing or you’re looking for post-1930 relatives. (The 1930 enumeration is the latest available for public research.) Fortunately, many larger libraries have shelves of old city directories for their own locales and for places across the country. Ask at the reference desk or search the library’s online catalog to see what’s available.

Another option is to find a researcher in California who can look up information for you, either as a volunteer or for a small fee. Try the listings at Books We Own or for starters.

Once you’ve gotten your hands on a directory, look through it methodically. If you can’t find your relative by name, check under the address from the 1930 census record you found. (On 1930 enumerations, the street is written along the left side of the page and the house number is in column two, under Place of Abode.) Start with the 1930 directory and work forward, year by year. If your father-in-law’s half sister moved, remember that Los Angeles encompasses many smaller communities, each of which usually had its own directory. In the growing, mobile LA of the early 1900s, your genealogical quarry may have pulled up stakes for Pasadena, Burbank or another suburb.

A version of this article appeared in the June 2005 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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