One of the major holdings of The Genealogy Center is its collection of city directories, both bound and on microfilm. With more than 55,000 bound directories alone, The Center has long been a major repository of volumes published by the R. L. Polk Company. Fred J. Reynolds, the Allen County Public Library’s director for whom The Genealogy Center’s collection is named, negotiated an agreement with the company in the mid-1960s for the library to receive a copy of each directory the company publishes each year. While those for some cities and years went out-of-print before a donation could be made, the bulk of what Polk has published since the 1960s is available in book form in The Genealogy Center. Researchers should keep in mind that for many larger cities, no directory has been published for many decades while other smaller cities have either been discontinued or combined with other towns into new county directories. Earlier directories for many U.S. cities published before 1960 are available in The Genealogy Center on microfilm.
City directories are indispensable tools in historical and genealogical research. Although they contain varying amounts of information depending on the time period and locality for which they were published, they can help a researcher in a variety of ways. They can distinguish people of the same name living in an urban area, provide information about residence and employment, and occasionally, show the names of spouses or widows as well as people of the same last name living at the same address. Rural directories, which are extant for a select number of counties and years, mainly in Midwestern states, will sometimes provide additional information, such as the names of children, the number of acres owned, the value of a farm, and even occasionally the religious and political affiliations of residents. When used in conjunction with federal census records, directories can provide valuable information for intervening years, allowing genealogists to pinpoint years of death and changing places of residence. Twentieth century directories offer an additional street and address cross-reference access, allowing users to determine the names of persons living at an address over time. City and rural directories are also valuable for identifying religious congregations, businesses, governmental offices, professionals, and fraternal orders in a particular locality.
Users of The Genealogy Center’s catalog wishing to locate directories of various types will want to enter the name of the city and state, combined with the word “directories.” If listings appear, they will be separate entries if the directories were produced by different companies. Holdings information will include the years that The Center holds. Also, if a city directory has been recombined into a county directory, expect it to appear in a separate catalog entry with publishing dates that are usually more recent.
To locate city directories on microfilm and microfiche, including most of the Center’s holdings before 1960, click on “Databases” from the main web page, and then click on “Microtext Catalog.” Then, under the column marked “Specialty Records,” click on the “City & County Directories” link. It will allow you to enter a state name, and once selected, an alphabetical list of directories will appear, together with the available years. Some cities have an expanded link that takes the user into a new page with more detailed holdings information. Directories on microfiche are the oldest in the collection and pre-date 1860. Some cities such as Philadelphia and New York have runs of directories extending back to the eighteenth century. Directories on microfilm often begin about 1861 and can sometimes run until 1935 or for a few cities, through 1960, though the coverage varies from place to place.
On your visit to The Genealogy Center, a librarian can show you on a map where both types of directories are located. The bound directories are located, for the most part, in the center section of moveable stacks in the west reading room. They follow the same modified Dewey decimal sequence as books on the main shelves. A few rural directories are not shelved here, however, and are instead to be found with the county histories and other books for a particular county. The pre-1860 directories published on microfiche are housed in in a cabinet marked C and are part of a collection known as “American Directories.” The remaining city directories are filed alphabetically by city in cabinets 26 through 34.
The breadth and scope of The Genealogy Center
’s holdings of city and rural directories make it a major component of our collection. Researchers, especially those with urban ancestors, will be rewarded for taking the time to examine at least a few of them.