Your Ancestor in the City Directory

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Have you found your ancestor in a city directory? You might have found their name and address. Did you look for any other clues that might be in that directory? Let’s take a look at everything you might be able to find in a city directory.

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What is a city directory?

City directories exist for many cities and towns going back centuries in some cases. Companies would make these directories for the city every year or every other year. They are a great way to track your ancestor in between other records, such as the census.

You can find these directories at many online websites and in libraries and archives. But, is it worth looking for your ancestor in a city directory? Does it give you more than a name and address? Absolutely yes!

Today we will look at an example of the 1862 Washington D.C. city directory, found on

1862 Washington D.C. City Directory

Names and Addresses

Many genealogists go to city directories to find the name and address of an ancestor. This is a great way to track an ancestor year by year in urban areas. But this is just one of many genealogy clues that can be found in the directory.

  • Always check the directory for additional known family members.
  • Search for other individuals living at the same address as the ancestor. (Yes, you can search the address by putting it in the keyword section of the search!)
  • Check the surname of your ancestor for others living at the same address or nearby, they are likely extended family members.


Occasionally your ancestor’s listing may mention that they are also listed in the advertisements section. Be sure to find the advertisement. This will help you to understand more about your ancestor’s occupation and the services they offered to their town.

Even if your ancestor is not directly mentioned in the advertisements, it gives a lot of context to the life your ancestor lived to browse the advertisements and see what kind of products and services your ancestor had access to in their town or city.

City Services

Many directories have sections that list all the public works and services available within the city such as:

  • churches
  • asylums
  • hospitals
  • schools
  • libraries
  • colleges
  • cemeteries
  • so many more!

These listings can be especially helpful if you are wondering where else to look for records of your ancestor. If you know they were Catholic, the listing of churches could help you determine which Catholic church was most convenient to the ancestor’s home. You may find additional records for your ancestor with this church.

Street Directory

Most city directories contain a page call the Street Directory. This is helpful to us as genealogists because streets change over time through realignment, renumbering, added cross-streets, etc. This street directory helps us to understand the layout and arrangement of the streets at the time our ancestor lived there.

Abbreviations Guide

In order to conserve space, directories used abbreviations in their listings. At the beginning of the directory, you will find a guide to these abbreviations. Be sure to reference this guide to understand exactly what the entry for your ancestor means.

Suburb Directory

Some large city directories, such as New York City, or Washington D.C., may have suburb directories also included in them. The example directory of the 1862 Washington D.C. Directory included Georgetown as well. Many of the men listed in the Washington D.C. directory for their businesses stated that their residence was in Georgetown. So a search of the Georgetown subdirectory would have the same men listed at their residential addresses.

Have you looked for ALL the clues for your ancestor in the city directory?

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Link to the 1862 Washington D.C. Directory:

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