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Telephone Directories at The New York Public Library: City Directories


Adapted from How to Research a Family Business by Susan Kriete

Before there were telephones or phone books, most cities and many smaller towns were served by city directories. Intended primarily as business directories, these early city directories include the profession or occupation of listed residents. Each entry typically lists the person's name, occupation, and business address, followed by a home address, preceded by an "h."

City Directories

NYC Directories Available on-site at NYPL

In addition to the directories freely available online through NYPL's digital portal, NYPL provides on-site access to directories through subscription databases, on microfilm, and in print (note that to preserve our print directories, they are only made available when not accessible online or on microfilm).

Subscription Databases

Digital copies of early New York City directories can be accessed through several subscription databases that are available on-site at NYPL:

Ancestry Library Edition  -- available at all NYPL locations. There is a link to City Directories on Ancestry Library Edition home page (or use Ancestry card catalog to find "U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995"). Can search by name or browse by years.

Fold3  -- available at NYPL Research Libraries. Not keyword searchable, but easier to browse than on Ancestry


If you are looking for later directories, or can’t find the specific year you are looking for online, NYPL holds a nearly complete collection of New York City directories on microfilm.
New York City directories [microform]. (1786 - 1933/34) City directories for New York City were not published after 1934.

City Directories of the United States (1861 - 1960)
More than 1200 cities, towns, and counties are represented in microfilm format.
Search the catalog by city name + directories (keyword search). 
To request, use call number *ZAN-G67 + City + Years being requested.
Guide/Index to City Directories of the United States - Detailed list of localities including suburban areas.
U.S. City Directories on Microfilm  - Library of Congress - Quick guide for coverage by state and date.
Many but not all of these directories are online in Ancestry Library Edition.


NYPL also holds print copies of many early NYC directories. To locate these in our online catalog, it is useful to know the main directory publishers, which include the following:

You can also try searching for New York City directories in our online catalog with the following subject headings:

Directories for Other Cities

Directories for cities and towns outside of New York City are also available, both online and at NYPL.

Free Online Sources

  • the free digital libraries HathiTrustInternet Archive, and Google books have digitized early directories for many cities other than New York.
  • note that these sites are all keyword searchable so you can search for the name of a specific person directly. Just make sure you are searching "full text" rather than the "catalog" or "metadata"

Available at NYPL

  • the subscription databases Ancestry Library Edition  (available at all NYPL locations) and Fold3 (available at NYPL Research Libraries) include directories for many a number of cities
  • print copies: try searching our online catalog with the keywords “[name of city or area] Directories”


Many early New York City directories are now freely available online through the following sources:

New York Public Library Digital Collections  
Directories can be viewed online but are not keyword searchable. For more about the project, see, New York Public Library Digitizes 137 Years of New York City Directories

Can search within directory text by name or other keyword.

Internet Archive
Can search within directory text by name or other keyword. Includes Brooklyn directories digitized by Brooklyn Public Library.

Google Books 

Here are some best bet resources: 

United States Directories - FamilySearch Wiki  - An introductory research guide on finding City Directories in the U.S

Direct Me NYC 1786: A History of City Directories in the United States and New York City - An NYPL blog post covering the history of city directories with special attention given to New York

How to Place Requests

First, view the catalog record and check the item's location. 
If the location is listed as offsite:
Click on "Request" for the item and select a location for delivery.

If the location is listed as Schwarzman Building or SASB:
Two or more days ahead, please use this form: Advance Request of Research Material
Less than two days, please email us:  

Request in the Library
Requests can also be placed in the Rose Main Reading Room, room 315. Delivery time is about an hour. We recommend requesting in advance. After items arrive, they are held for two weeks. Please email us if you have questions or need assistance. 

Page from New York City Directory 1876 with listing for Herman Melville

Trow's 1876 listing for Herman Melville. Click image to enlarge.