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What can you find in a city directory?

directories
Do you know what you can find in a city directory?

If you want to research your home, your family history,
or local history you’ll want to use city directories.

They are similar to telephone books in that they were published every year, and they list the people living in a city….but city directories have so much more information.

You can find out the name of a spouse, both living and deceased.

Everett City Directory 1939

Everett City Directory 1939

 

You can find out someone’s profession.

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Wenatchee City Directory 1936

 

You can look up a company, and find out who was in charge.

Spokane City Directory 1893

Spokane City Directory 1893

 

If you are researching the history of your house you can search most city directories by street
address, instead of by a name, and find out who lived at a particular address.

Bellingham City Directory 1939

Bellingham City Directory 1939

This is a partial list of people and businesses located on Meridian Street in Bellingham in 1939.

In 1939, the Fountain Plumbing Co. could be found at 2309 Meridian.  Today, over 70 years later,  there is still a home improvement business at that address.

Not a plumbing company,  but a store selling recycled and salvaged building supplies.

 

You can track your ancestors year by year.

You not only find out if their address changed, but also if their employment or marital status changed.  These 1936 and 1938 Wenatchee city directories tell us that Don Miller got promoted during those years, becoming the President/Manager of North Central Chevrolet.

1936

1936

1938

1938

 

City directories also provide a historical snapshot of the city.  There is usually a profile of the city
at the beginning of each one, along with some statistical data.

Ellensburg City Directory 1968

Ellensburg City Directory 1968

The information provided varies from year to year and city to city.

This example from the 1968 Ellensburg City Directory tells us what their population was, and what their media, entertainment and transportation options were.

It gets even more detailed, and tells us how many beds the hospital had, how many volumes the library held, how many telephones were in use.
*click on the image to read those numbers*

There might not be surviving data from the Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce, but since they provided these statistics, along with the historical and economic data for the directory, we still have this historical snapshot of Ellensburg in 1968.

 

 

The directories after about 1920 usually have a yellow pages section where the businesses, churches, and government offices are listed by subject.

You can find out who all the local officials were….the mayor, police chief, and so on.
If the town happens to have Federal Government offices, you can find out who was in charge of them, as we can see in this  1955 Moses Lake city directory.

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Moses Lake City Directory 1955

 

You can even find a future president….living with his mother in Seattle in 1961-1962.

cd_obama

Seattle City Directory 1961-1962

 

The Washington State Library has a collection of city directories for cities all over the state.

This page on our web site lists all of the city directories in our collection.
www.sos.wa.gov/library/cityList.aspx#washington

Contact us if you have any questions about using our city directory collection.
askalibrarian@sos.wa.gov   /   360.704.5221

 

 



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One Response to “What can you find in a city directory?”

  1. City directories are one of my favorite resources for genealogy and house history research. I have put together a website of links where you can find city directories online at either free sites or subscription sites. There is a whole section for Washington State at https://sites.google.com/site/onlinedirectorysite/Home/usa/wa.

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