By Rachel Silverman
We’ve all been there: A certain census reveals your family living in a particular city, then the next census finds them halfway across the state. Or continent. Now you’re thinking, How did that happen?
Or–even worse–they are nowhere to be found in the next census. Now what?
Between censuses, my most valuable resource is the town, county, or city directory. Similar to the white phonebooks of yesteryear, directories contained names and addresses for residents, businesses, and government buildings. In some directories, I’ve even found pages near the beginning which contained lists of community leaders–elected officials, clergy of all religions, trade union bosses, etc.
Depending on local regulations, community customs, and information volunteered by residents, directories can include such juicy tidbits as relocations (i.e. moves), marriages, and deaths, complete with death dates from the previous year!
Check out some examples below, outlined in red:
Manchester, New Hampshire, City Directory, 1933 (Boston, Mass.: Sampson & Murdock Co., 1932), 507; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 June 2016).
Rochester Directory for the year ending October, 1925 (Rochester, N.Y.: Sampson & Murdock Co. Inc., 1924), 436; digital images, Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County City Directory Collections (http://www.libraryweb.org/rochcitydir : accessed 20 June 2016).
While digitized directories can be found in many places online and free of charge, a special “hats off” goes to Ancestry.com, which has a bazillion town directories available for perusal. When searching for directory entries, keep in mind that some are indexed very well and therefore easily searchable, while others are simply indexed badly or not at all. No matter what the indexing situation, it’s always best to go straight to the source; page through the images and read them with your own eyes. This may seem pretty tedious at the outset, but it will certainly save you time in the long-run.
Another great way to cope with between-census woes is the all-important newspaper search. Before the advent of social media (gasp!), regional, city, and small-town newspapers all contained sections for “personals” or “social mentions,” which contained brief announcements about local goings-on, such as:
- Guest arrivals in town and the names of their local hosts
- Travel notices, including names of hosts in other locations
- Resident relocations, both permanent and seasonal
- Engagements, marriages, and births (deaths were listed in the Obituary section)
- Parties, including names of hosts, honorees, and guests (local and out-of-town)
- And many random facts!
Check out these informational gold mines:
“Times’ Personal Column,” Chester Times (Chester, Penn.), 23 September 1911, p. 5, col. 2; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/5275926 : accessed 24 June 2016).
“Society and Personal Items,” Warren Times Mirror (Warren, Pennsylvania), 16 September 1918, p. 4, cols. 1-2; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/37159812 : accessed 24 Jun 2016).
While these two examples come from a paid source, there are plenty of free newspaper archives on the internet, such as Chronicling America, which has digitized and indexed newspapers through 1922. When the internet fails, don’t forget to scope out your local library for microfilms of old newspapers!
The hunt for our ancestors is never easy, but if you have a keen eye for detail, resources like local directories and newspapers will certainly yield clues to further your research–and sate the thirst for more information between censuses.