Sunday, January 27, 2008

City Directories

City directories are a wonderful resource, if your ancestors lived in a city that had them. Most of them aren't online, so you have to get out of your pajamas, into some clothes, and head to a local library, or whatever location has them on microfilm, or possibly still has paper copies. Some City Directories are available online. If you put "City Directory" and your city of choice into Google, you may find a few.

For example
I haven't found any other complete directories online for St. Louis.

Footnote has a good primer on the usage of city directories. They provide a list of common abbreviations, but note that some directories have their own unique abbreviations, so it is important to check their key. This is true, for example, 'r.', according to Footnote is commonly used to reference the rear of a building. However, the St. Louis City guide uses it to mean 'resides', to indicate it is the home address.

Yesterday I spent 3.5 hours looking at 15 years worth of microfilm That's a little over 4 rolls an hour, and a roll every 14 minutes. Considering I am looking up five surnames, I think this is pretty good. I noted back in August that I am mechanically disinclined, and my first attempt to use the microfilm machines was somewhat embarrassing. But I learned quickly.

I covered 1888-1902. There's older film, but my family began to arrive at about that time. I will cover post-1920 on future trips, and I will also have to go through the St. Louis County directories as well, since they're separate. It's going to take several trips, but the information is worth it.

For example, when I mentioned a week ago about the patent for improvements to hydrants my ancestor, Selig Feinstein, filed, I said he was into real estate and laundry, and I wasn't sure how he knew about hydrants. He first appears in the 1892 directory, and by 1902 hasn't gone into either industry. From 1892-1898 he is a 'shoer', and from 1899-1900 a 'blacksmith' with his business partner (and co-patenter) Max Weiselman. Horse Shoeing and Blacksmithing are, of course, related fields, as this Guide to Modern Blacksmithing from 1904 illustrates. Since the profession involves use of fire, close proximity to, and knowledge of how to use a hydrant was probably crucial.

In 1901 Selig left his partnership with Weiselman, and became a dealer of junk with his own store, The Western Junk Shop. He's still there in 1902, and his son Harry appears as the bookkeeper. It will be interesting to discover on my future trips to the library how long that business lasted, and what else he did.

Meanwhile, I'm creating an excel spreadsheet:

I've set it up so that I will be easily able to sort by year, surname, and street name (to see if different families actually lived/worked near each other.)

(*) If I had done this Google search before my trip to the library, I probably wouldn't have looked at the 1889 and 1890 rolls of microfilm. This would have been a mistake. Because despite Ancestry's claims, I question that they have both directories there. I have two surnames with family members who were in both directories. I wrote down exactly how their names were spelled in each. In both cases, when I conduct the search, I am given the entries for 1890, but not 1889.

For example, a search on Blatt, yields Charles and Reinhold. The addresses Ancestry provides both come from the 1890 directory. Reinhold and Charles were residing at a different location in 1889. I trust my notes. And even if they were at the same location, the 1889 entry should be displayed as well.

(Note: I'm not sure I'm related to either. My Blatt ancestor shows up a few years later. However, many immigrant families had a reason for heading for a particular city, and family members already being there was one of the common ones, so I am recording their addresses in case I discover later on that they are related.)

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