Directories offer gold mine of good stuff
In my last column I wrote about using state and county censuses to uncover missing facts about your family during the 10-year gap in official federal censuses. Another great resource for this is a town/city directory.
If your ancestors lived in a tiny village it’s likely there were no directories issued or there may have been only one. Or, your ancestral village might have been in a directory with several nearby towns. If your ancestors ever lived or worked in a larger city such as Bangor you are in luck. Most cities of any size issued annual directories and there are treasures to be mined when you use these. It’s worth hunting for all the directories you can locate because the information can be valuable in your research.
What will you find other than your ancestor’s name? Almost all directories give the name of the head of the household, address, occupation and name of employer, spouse, and the others in the household if they are of working age. If the family moved between directories it will usually note “removed” and where they went which can solve issues of people just seeming to disappear and where to look for them.
If a woman is a widow it will usually state “widow of” which is also extremely helpful in identifying names of husbands or determining if the widow is the woman you are seeking. Most of the time there is a separate business section that allows you to find the type of business your ancestor worked for, its location, and other information.
One warning: not all directories are complete and not everyone may be included. The 1904 Town Directory for Dover and Foxcroft ignored most of the rural Lithuanian families including mine though the ones living in the towns are included. I don’t know why this happened but it did.
Using directories can sometimes seem like a soap opera in progress. My husband recently tracked a distant cousin through Connecticut directories and noted a change of three wives during a 10-year period, wives who would not have made it into the federal census. That type of information can tell you to check marriage, death, and divorce records for possible children and cousins you never knew existed.
Also, if your ancestor was boarding with a family or a in a boarding house take note of those in the house. There may be a family connection or clues to possible lines to follow should you hit a brick wall.
Where can you locate directories? Your local ones should be at your library or historical society. Many are now online at sites such as Ancestry.com (free at area libraries). Town and city directories are easy to use and you can print out the information or get a photocopy. With them you can follow where an ancestor moved, either to another town or within a community, or if they changed occupations.
Don’t neglect searching for directories. They often hold surprises and lots of clues.
Nancy Battick is a Dover-Foxcroft native who has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. You can contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.