Exploring City Directories: How to Trace Your Family in Yesterday’s Yellow Pages

City directories are indispensable tools for genealogists, but they go far beyond just listing your ancestor’s address. They connect an ancestor to a certain place in time and lead to a multitude of sources and present a fuller picture of your ancestors’ lives. In this course, we’ll explore city directories and their applications so you can fully take advantage of this comprehensive source.


  • How to locate city directories online and in archives
  • Meanings of common abbreviations and symbols
  • How to use city directories to create a picture of your ancestor’s neighborhood
  • Tricks for searching directories online


$99.99 ($89.99 for VIP)

Course Length:

4 Weeks


Diana Crisman Smith

Start Date:

View upcoming course schedule for dates.


  • Family researchers who haven’t yet located their families in city directories
  • Genealogists who need help navigating online databases


  • Access to a library, historical or genealogical society nearby or in the geographic area of your research. In-person access is preferable but not required. All assignments can be completed through online, e-mail or phone contact.


Lesson 1: Introduction and Orientation

  • Origins and Purposes of City Directories
    • Procedures for compiling city directories
  • Exploring the Directories
    • Complexity
    • Alphabetic listings
    • Abbreviations and symbols
    • Occupational and legal terminology
    • Location of residents
      • “Missing” names
      • Accuracy
    • Annexation and Suburban Directories
    • Locating Directories
  • Exercise

Lesson 2: Delving Deeper into Directories

  • Business Listings in the Alphabetical Section
  • Cluster Genealogy
    • Occupation
    • Location
  • Index to Advertisers
    • Case study: Fontayne and Porter
  • Clubs and Organizations
  • Location
    • Maps
    • Street names
    • Street descriptions
    • Reverse street indexes
  • Description of the Community
  • Miscellaneous Information
  • Rural Areas
  • Exercise

Lesson 3: Electronic Access

  • Online City Directory Providers
    • Volunteers
    • Libraries
    • Commercial Databases
    • Finding Directories
  • Online Search Features
    • Indexes, abstracts and transcriptions
      • Challenges
      • Strategies
    • Simple scans
      • Challenges
      • Strategies
    • Scans with sophisticated search options
      • Challenges
      • Strategies
  • Exercise

Lesson 4: Using City Directories as a Launching Pad

  • City Directories and the US Census
    • Geographic strategy
  • Manufacturing/Industry Census Schedules
  • Substitute Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Records
  • Deeds
  • Death Records
  • Exercise

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