|I.C. Farthing & Mamie Farthing, 1955|
. I.C., as he was known, worked for an insurance company, and later became a lawyer. I’ve always had a special fondness for this great-grandfather, not just because he’s the only great-grandparent I knew (!), but I was named after him. His first name, Irving, is my middle name.
Besides my mother’s personal memories, one set of sources I used for some information about my great-grandparents was the city directories of Savannah. So far I’ve looked them up in the directories for the years 1917-1923, 1925-1929 and 1934. Those are the years I examined at the Bull Street Library in Savannah when I was able to spend a half day there last month. There are more city directories available on microfilm through the Family History Center (Family Search Center). I plan to order those microfilms later this summer. City directories are interesting books, far more than just a phone book, though you can find elements of both the white and yellow pages there. City directories date back to the 1700’s in the USA, though the heyday seems to have been the period from about 1870’s through the 1920’s. Most major cities had yearly directories, and even many smaller urban areas had directories compiled every few years. At a minimum, the “classic” city directory will list each address in the city along with the business or head of household and possibly a spouse in one section, followed by an alphabetical listing of the city’s residents and businesses. Many times the employer of individuals will also be listed. In addition, each employed adult (or older adolescent) would be listed separately. Advertising appeared on every page, and later books added a section of just businesses. Once phones were introduced, the phone number was listed if the person or business had one, plus the directory would often list what we would consider a “reverse lookup” – all the phone numbers in numerical order with the telephone subscribers’ names attached. This is truly an embarrassment of riches for the family historian if you are lucky enough to have family living in an area that had city directories.
Here’s your summary:
- City directories can provide valuable genealogical and family history information, as well as interesting details about life in the town or city where your ancestors lived. Try Google Books, Ancestry.com and Googling the name of your town plus the words “city directory” for additional online resources. There are researchers who will (for a fee) do lookups. Additionally, many libraries have copies of their local or in-state city directories.
- City directories are no more, or less, accurate than census forms, but the two should corroborate each other. One big advantage to the directories is that they were often printed yearly for larger urban areas during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
- Sanborn Maps can be useful in urban areas for showing what buildings existed at the time and the information can be used to supplement and verify both printed tabular resources such as censuses and directories as well as pictorial evidence that may be derived from old family photographs, drawings and historic postcards.