Friday, June 19, 2020

Using Directories to Research Your African-American Ancestors

Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

Today is Juneteenth, a celebration of the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African-Americans in the Confederacy, in Texas.

In honor of that day, I am posting links to specific kinds of directories and resources for those researching their African-American roots in the United States:

If you are researching African-American ancestors in city directories, keep the following in mind:
  1. Unless your ancestor was a free person and a head of a household, you are unlikely to find him or her in a city directory, especially before or during the American Civil War (1861-1865).
  2. Search for the words Negro or Colored within a directory.  Sometimes an individual was labeled with that term within the directory's general listing.  But, sometimes a whole section of a directory dedicated to Black individuals was segregated to the back of the volume.
  3. Look at the Abbreviations section of a directory, usually at the front of the listings.  You may see that an (N) or a (C) was used to denote someone of African ancestry.  While these labels are racist, they do help to identify and delineate your ancestor with a common name from a Caucasian man with the same name.
  4. Whether or not you find your ancestor, look in the directory section before the lists of individuals for the lists of churches, clubs, cemeteries, schools, and other city features.  You may find specific institutions for the African-Americans in that community.  These can point you to locate other record groups, such as church records or a cemetery office, which may provide information on your ancestor.  They may also point you to other types of directories.  Perhaps there is a historical church directory for that African Episcopal Methodist church your ancestors were members of for generations! Or perhaps there is a historical directory for all the Prince Hall Freemasons in your ancestor's state.
  5. You may need to look for a separate directory for your ancestor.  Colored directories were sometimes published by the African-American community within a city.  Do a Google search for "colored directory" or "negro directory" (with parentheses) and the name of the city and the year range (using ellipses: 1870...1874) you are researching.
  6. Be prepared to find nothing about your ancestor within the lists of individuals, even when you know from other records that he was living in that city at that time.  It was not uncommon for minorities and certain ethnic groups to not be included in directories. Besides people with African ancestry, this included people from Asia, the Irish and Italians and others who didn't fit in the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) mold. Nevertheless, don't give up looking for your ancestors in city directories!

This post originally appeared in our Historical City Directories group on Facebook.  Click here to join.  Be sure to answer the question and agree to the rules.

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Finding Your Rural and Small Town Ancestors in Directories

Winter Scene in New Haven, Connecticut
George Henry Durrie, c. 1858
from Google Arts & Culture

Just because your ancestors didn't live in cities doesn't mean that they aren't listed in directories.  As a matter of fact, there are a large variety of directories available for your rural and small town ancestors.  These directories have a variety of names:
  • county directory - published either as a part of a city directory--usually in the back of the volume--or as a separate, stand-alone directory
  • rural directory - also published as a part of a city directory, or separately
  • farm directory or farmers directory - sometimes titled "farmers and breeders directory", "farmers and business directory", or "farmers almanac and business directory"
  • atlas, plat book, or gazetteer - often incorporated with a small town business or rural directory
  • county history - may include a small town business or rural directory

For the purpose of this post and simplicity, I'm going to refer to all of the above as "rural directories."

Just as the names of the directories are varied, so are the facts you may discover about your ancestor, depending upon what information was gathered by the directory companies.  Here are some of the details I've noticed in various rural directories:
  • whether a land-owning or tenant farmer
  • how many acres owned or farmed
  • a description of the property, such as section, township, and range; or lot and concession numbers
  • rural route number, or name of the nearest post office
  • the name of and mileage (and sometimes direction) from the nearest community - "5 miles SW of Centerville"
  • telephone number and exchange (for historical timeline reference, Bell invented the telephone in 1876)
  • name of the farm or ranch
  • number of cattle, horses, sheep, and other large livestock
  • listing of breeders and the specific types of livestock and poultry breeds they raised
  • major crops planted by the farmer
  • wife's maiden name
  • children's names
  • year the individual became a resident in that county
  • military service, or lists of veterans
  • photographs of prominent citizens, homes, businesses, small town streets
  • automobile owners
  • tractor owners
  • county road and local highway maps
  • township maps
  • rural delivery route maps

The Farm Journal Illustrated Rural Directory of Genesee County Michigan 1919 - 1924,
published 1919 by the Wilmer Atkinson Company
from the Internet Archive

Above you can see three listings for York families in the Genesee County, Michigan rural directory of 1919.  The middle listing is my great-great-grandfather, James L. York with his (second) wife Mary, and his "child" Howard M. (my great-grandfather, who was 21 at the time).  James was a farmer who owned 40 acres, 2 horses, and 5 cattle.  His mailing address was Route 1, Goodrich (a village), and he lived on Atlas Township road 65.

Above James's entry is one for his oldest son Ernest and his family.  He was not a farmer, but a mason.  Below James's entry is one for his older brother Jeremiah Franklin York, Jr., who was a retired farmer.  James's entry is in ALL CAPS, which means he subscribed to The Farm Journal.  Consulting the abbreviation key at the beginning of this directory was very helpful, just as it is for city directories.

As noted with my great-grand-uncle Ernest, one did not have to be farmer to be listed in a rural directory.  There were many people with various occupations in rural areas: skilled laborers such as masons, blacksmiths, millers, and mechanics; ferrymen; shopkeepers; business owners; town clerks and sheriffs; clergymen, doctors, attorneys, and other professionals.  So don't let the knowledge that your small-town ancestor was not a farmer prevent you from searching farm and rural directories!

Just as with city directories, rural directories should lead you to review and compare other related records.  Gazetteers, plat maps, physical maps, land records, church records, local newspapers, and county histories and biographies are just some of the many records that can enhance what you find in the directories.  Both federal and state censuses often have corresponding agricultural schedules, besides the population schedules, so be sure to consult those as well.

While your rural ancestors may have belonged to a church society and/or a fraternal society such as the Masonic Lodge, they were also likely to have belonged to the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, known commonly as the Grange, which was founded in 1867.  A couple of Grange directories can be found at the Internet Archive.  Contact the Granges in your ancestral areas, if they still exist, to see if they have records of your ancestor, too.

The Road to Lumberville or The Edge of the Village
Fern Coppedge, 1938
from Google Arts & Culture

Finally, get a sense of what it was like to live in that place and time by looking further into the information at the beginning and end of the directory.  Often, you'll find the history of the county; the number of farms within the county and its highest-producing crops and classes of livestock; advertisements from local businesses, some with illustrations or photographs; and farming tips for raising livestock, planting and harvesting crops, symptoms and treatments for disease, pests, and weeds.

You can find rural directories in the same places you find city directories: offline, in libraries, genealogical and historical societies, archives, and used bookstores; and online, in subscription genealogical websites such as Ancestry, MyHeritage, Fold3, FindMyPast; free-to-access websites such as FamilySearch, the Internet Archive, digitized collections of libraries, archives, genealogical and historical societies; and second-hand book distributors' websites, and auction sites such as Ebay.

Rural directories can yield a rich harvest for your genealogical and historical research!

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Updated Pages for the United States: Farm and Farmers Directories

This is the third part of an update I posted yesterday, after spending much of this month adding links to my site to farm and farmer's directories on the Internet Archive.  There are 59 new pages and 89 updated pages as a result!  Be on the look out for a blog post on how to find and use rural directories in your research, coming soon to this blog.

There are so many changes, I have made three posts.  Yesterday's post listed the new pages, and the previous one has the Canada pages update.

United States




San Diego Co., California




Bureau Co., Illinois

Cass Co., Illinois

Champaign Co., Illinois

Coles Co., Illinois

Cook Co., Illinois (Chicago)

Douglas Co., Illinois

Jo Daviess Co., Illinois

Kane Co., Illinois

LaSalle Co., Illinois

Mason Co., Illinois

McHenry Co., Illinois

Sangamon Co., Illinois

Shelby Co., Illinois

St. Clair Co., Illinois

Whiteside Co., Illinois

Allen Co., Indiana

Delaware Co., Indiana

Jay Co., Indiana

LaPorte Co., Indiana

Union Co., Indiana

Johnson Co., Iowa




Barry Co., Michigan

Ingham Co., Michigan

Macomb Co., Michigan

Monroe Co., Michigan

Washtenaw Co., Michigan





New Hampshire

New York

Genesee Co., New York

Herkimer Co., New York

Ontario Co., New York

Otsego Co., New York

Schuyler Co., New York

Seneca Co., New York

Wayne Co., New York

Yates Co., New York

North Carolina

Crawford Co., Ohio

Huron Co., Ohio

Medina Co., Ohio

Portage Co., Ohio

Stark Co., Ohio

Williams Co., Ohio



Beaver Co., Pennsylvania

Butler Co., Pennsylvania

Greene Co., Pennsylvania

Lawrence Co., Pennsylvania

Washington Co., Pennsylvania

South Carolina



Utah Co., Utah


Washington (State)

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Updated Pages for Canada: Farm and Farmers Directories

This is the second part of an update I posted yesterday, after spending much of this month adding links to my site to farm and farmer's directories on the Internet Archive.  There are 59 new pages and 89 updated pages as a result!  Be on the look out for a blog post on how to find and use rural directories in your research, coming soon to this blog.

There are so many changes, I have made three posts.  Yesterday's post listed the new pages, this one has the Canadian pages update, and the next one will have the United States pages update.


British Columbia - there are a lot of broken links on this page; thank you for your patience!

New Brunswick

Algoma District, Ontario

Bruce Co., Ontario

Durham Regional Municipality, Ontario

Elgin Co., Ontario

Frontenac Co., Ontario

Grey Co., Ontario

City of Hamilton, Ontario (formerly Wentworth County)

Hastings Co., Ontario

City of Kawartha Lakes, Ontario (formerly Victoria County)

Middlesex Co., Ontario

Niagara Regional Municipality, Ontario (formerly Lincoln and Welland Counties)

Oxford Co., Ontario

Simcoe Co., Ontario

Waterloo Regional Municipality, Ontario

York Co., Ontario


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Friday, July 19, 2019

New Pages: Farm and Farmers Directories

Photo from
Free to use

I've spent much of this month adding links to the site to farm and farmer's directories on the Internet Archive.  There are 59 new pages and 89 updated pages as a result!  Be on the look out for a blog post on how to find and use rural directories in your research, coming soon to this blog.

There are so many changes, I am making three posts.  This one lists the new pages, and the following two will list the Canada and United States updated pages.

South Africa

Haldimand Co., Ontario

Haliburton Co., Ontario

Halton Regional Municipality, Ontario

Huron Co., Ontario

Lanark Co., Ontario

Lennox and Addington County, Ontario

Manitoulin District, Ontario

Muskoka District, Ontario

Northumberland Co., Ontario

Parry Sound District, Ontario

Perth Co., Ontario

Peterborough Co., Ontario

Prescott and Russell United Counties, Ontario

Prince Edward Co., Ontario - note that this is a county in Ontario, and not Prince Edward Island, which is a separate Canadian province from Ontario

Refrew Co., Ontario

Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry United Counties, Ontario

Timiskaming District, Ontario

Boone Co., Illinois

Carroll Co., Illinois

DeKalb Co., Illinois

DuPage Co., Illinois

Grundy Co., Illinois

Kendall Co., Illinois

Lake Co., Illinois

Lee Co., Illinois

Monroe Co., Illinois

Montgomery Co., Illinois

Ogle Co., Illinois

Stephenson Co., Illinois

Will Co., Illinois

Ralls Co., Missouri

Hendricks Co., Indiana

Huntington Co., Indiana

Madison Co., Indiana

Shelby Co., Indiana

Sullivan Co., Indiana

Washington Co., Indiana

Story Co., Iowa

Cass Co., Michigan

Clinton Co., Michigan

Isabella Co., Michigan

Gloucester Co., New Jersey

Albany Co., New York

Tompkins Co., New York

Ashland Co., Ohio

Darke Co., Ohio

Knox Co., Ohio

Logan Co., Ohio

Marion Co., Ohio

Mercer Co., Ohio

Preble Co., Ohio

Wood Co., Ohio

Clark Co., Washington

Green Co., Wisconsin

Jefferson Co., Wisconsin

Kenosha Co., Wisconsin

Racine Co., Wisconsin

Walworth Co., Wisconsin

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Saturday, June 1, 2019

Rooming, Boarding, and Renting: What’s the Difference?

Boott Mills boardinghouse and storehouse, now restored and part of Lowell National Historic Park. Lowell, Massachusetts
Wikimedia Commons contributors, "File:Boott Boardinghouse Store.jpg," Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed June 1, 2019).

Most city directories listed whether a resident was rooming, boarding, renting, or sometimes owned a home. “Room and board” is not a term one sees often today, other than perhaps in college fees, and most people do not understand the difference between rooming and boarding. When a person rooms, they pay for the use of a bedroom of a private home or boarding house only. They purchase all their meals elsewhere, either at a restaurant or cafeteria.

When a person boards, they not only pay for the use of a bedroom, they also receive meals; the payment to the host is called “room and board.” “Board” refers to the table on which food is served. “Half board” means the boarder receives breakfast and dinner, while “full board” means they receive all three meals as part of their arrangement. This is also where the term “bed and breakfast” came from, in boarding situations where only breakfast was provided. In both rooming and boarding situations, the guest shares the rest of the house with the host and other guests; for instance, the living room or parlor, bathroom, and kitchen and dining areas.

It’s not unusual to see the adult children of your ancestors be listed in city directories as boarders in their own parents’ homes. As these young men and women became of age to start working, typically in their teens, they would find a job and begin to help support the family through their board pay until they were financially ready to set up their own households.

Boarding houses were very common in the nineteenth century, but died out in popularity after the 1930s. Running a boarding house or renting out a room or two was one of the few ways a single woman or widow could earn a respectable living during that time period. Wikipedia has a very good article about the history of boarding houses at

In contrast to room and board, when a person rents, they either rent a completely separate residence from the landlord, or they rent a portion of the landlord’s residence and have their own private living, bedroom, bath, and kitchen areas. There is usually a separate entrance to their living areas as well.

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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Dane County, Wisconsin Online Historical Directories - Update

The Dane County, Wisconsin Online Historical Directories page has been updated with 30 new links, mostly from the Stoughton Public Library's digital collections.  Madison is the county seat.

Minor updates and corrections were also applied to the following pages:
Thanks to all who report broken links or new resources.  I am making a concerted effort to apply these to the website in a more expedited manner.

Please note the following issues; I appreciate your patience as we work around them:
  1. Some links to city directories at Ancestry - A couple of years ago, I started converting the links to Ancestry on my website over to affiliate links.  This means I would get a few cents every time someone clicked on those affiliate links.  I had not converted every Ancestry link, as it does take a long time to do.  Recently, Ancestry contracted with a different affiliate program.  I've applied to the new program and my application is pending.  Meanwhile, old affiliate links don't work.  This doesn't mean the city directories are no longer at Ancestry.  If you get an error on a link to a city directory at Ancestry, you will need to go directly to Ancestry and look for the city directory in their databases yourself until I am able to update the links.  They are this database: U.S. City Directories, 1822 - 1995Note: this only affects a small percentage of the Ancestry links on my website; most are still good because I never converted them over to an affiliate link.
  2. Links to city directories at the Distant Cousins site - This site is no longer online, so when you click on a city directory from the site, you'll get an odd error message.  MyHeritage bought this collection, and it is now available on their website.  MyHeritage is a subscription genealogy website, so you will need to purchase one to view those directories.  One workaround is to use the WayBack Machine at the Internet Archive.  These are "snapshots" of websites that the Internet Archive took of webpages around the internet.  When a website gets taken down, many times those "snapshots" are available in the WayBack Machine.  I have linked some of the Distant Cousin links to the WayBack Machine and have noted when I have done so.  It will take me some time to fix all these links; meanwhile you can either enter the addresses into the WayBack Machine or use a MyHeritage subscription. 

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