Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Farthing for Your Thoughts

I.C. Farthing & Mamie Farthing, 1955
I’ve mentioned before that my maternal grandmother was Helen Lois Farthing (1910-1984).  Her parents were Mamie Clyde White (1884-1957) and Irving Colquitt Farthing (1885-1974), “Mamaw” and “Papaw” as we called them (though I’ve discovered that my mom spelled their names “Mamma” and “Pappa”).  Mamaw and Papaw were married in Dublin, Laurens County, Georgia, on 1 December 1907.  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.

For example, this is a page (right) from the Savannah 1918 City Directory, published by The Savannah Directory Publishing Company.  (Remember, you can click on any image in the blog for a larger view, or right-click and open in a new tab or window to keep this page up, too.)  The listing reads “Farthing, Irvin [sic] C. (Mamie), agt. Metro L. I. Co., h 302 Hall w.”  Irvin was a common misspelling of his first name; I sometimes get that, too.  Interestingly, the Street Guide section (below) spells his name correctly.  They were living at 302 West Hall Street, and he was an agent with the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.  By the next year, 1919, I.C. was listed as a lawyer with an office at 24 East President Street, and he had moved his family out to the suburbs, living in Pooler.  He moved back into the city by 1922, taking up residence on East 32nd Street.  Like I said, not only is there an alphabetical listing of residents, but there is also a Street Guide, which lists households by address.  A nice dividend to the Street Guide is that you can see who your ancestors lived near.  Sometimes this may help in finding in-laws, children, cousins, parents, or other relations who may have been missed on the traditional census.  Each block is indicated by the cross-streets, so it becomes easy to look for where they may have lived.  One thing to keep in mind, though, if you look up old addresses on a modern map, is that oftentimes the streets have been renumbered and even renamed. 

Fortunately, for some cities and for some years, there is a resource that you can use to check this out – the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.  (For a nice introduction to the Sanborn Maps check out this Wikipedia article.)  I found a selection of digitized historical Sanborn Maps for a variety of Georgia cities at the Digital Library of Georgia website (click here).  Many libraries have copies of local Maps, and a Google search may reveal additional digital sources that can be accessed online (such as ProQuest – available through many local libraries – and the Sanborn Company itself, if you want paper copies.)  Google Maps’ Street View can come in handy for seeing what the location looks like today.  Just for kicks I looked up the address 302 West Hall on a 1916 Sanborn Map available through the Digital Library of Georgia.  In this case it appears the address hasn’t changed in the past 95 years.  Comparing the map section to the legend, it appears they were living in a flat located in a 2-story wood frame building.  When I looked at the Google Street View, it appears that could be the same building, but without further research there’s no way to be sure.  Still, it’s pretty cool, yes?

Guess that’s about it for now.  More next time.

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, 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.

 Later y’all,



Becca@Bin Hire Melbourne said...

Thanks for taking the time to discuss that, I really feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.

*GeorgiaTim said...

Thank you for your comment. I've been absent from the blog for most of this year due to family and personal health issues, but I hope to return with new posts after the holidays.