City directories can be used to research genealogies, biographies, and the history of the place whose residents they list. City directories first appeared in the United States in 1785, and record the names, residential and business addresses, and occupations of millions of Americans. They also record the names and addresses of churches, businesses, schools, police stations, and government offices, as well as the names of individuals associated with those institutions. City directories record the price of travel and postage, the kinds of occupations undertaken in the city, the layout of streets, and at what time the sun was predicted to rise and set. Not for nothing were early city directories often referred to as gazetteers and almanacs. Some directories record whether a women is a widow, and whether an individual listed is a person of color. City directories were precursors of the later white and yellow pages telephone directories, and most towns and cities in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries had at least one directory. In New York City, city directories were published between 1786 and 1933/34.
New York City
United States and international
City Directories can be found the NYPL catalog using the following subject terms:
[city] ([state]) – Directories
e.g. New York (N.Y.) – Directories, Dunkirk (N.Y.) – Directories, Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) - Directories
[city] ([state]) – Commerce – Directories
e.g. New York (N.Y.) – Commerce – Directories
Elite directories: Social registers or keyword “elite directories.”
City Directories on Microfilm at NYPL
Most city directories published in the United States are available on microfiche and microfilm.
City directories, from the earliest to 1860. Compiled from the collections of nearly 100 libraries in the United States, described in detail in Spear's Bibliography of American Directories through 1860 , and comprised of 6,292 microfiche.
City directories for most United States cities, from 1861 to 1965. Includes some business directories.
Primary Source Media has a very useful online page for searching exactly which cities and towns have microfilmed directories. Directories for smaller towns are often included / combined with bigger city and state directories: set Collection Title to City Directories, and enter the location in the keyword search box to see if a place has a city directory on microfilm.
City directories help a genealogist locate people in a place and time. They are also useful for:
The above are only a few examples of how a genealogist may glean information from a city directory.