Using City Directories to Answer Family History Questions

Do you have questions you’d like to ask ancestors about their homes and their jobs? I do, and would especially like to ask my paternal grandparents some of them.

Here are a few of them:

  1. When did the family stop using the surname “Kucharik” and begin using “Sabo?”
  2. When did John Kucharik, my grandfather’s eldest brother, die? He was born in 1877 and last appeared in the 1900 census, living with his family. His mother reported one fewer living children in 1910 than in 1900, but no death record has been found.
  3. Nana told me that my father was born in the same house in which I grew up at 49 Summer Street, Passaic. He was born in February 1926. When did my grandparents buy the house? They were renting at the time of the 1920 census.
  4. My grandparents owned a meat market, along with my grandmother’s brother and a family friend. I know that the market closed in 1951 and that it was open at the time of the 1930 census. When did it actually open?
  5. Where did the Kuchariks/Sabos live in Passaic? Immigrants were renters and they moved often. I have the families placed in each census from 1900-1930, but don’t know where they lived in between because I know they didn’t stay put.

I never knew my paternal grandfather, as he died of tuberculosis years before I was born. However, my grandmother, Julia, would have been able to answer questions 2 & 3 and part of 4.

I requested a copy of the deed of purchase by my grandparents for the house in Passaic from the county clerk. I was told to hire a title service to do the search, but I wasn’t about to pay that kind of money for a land deed. Passaic County deeds have only been microfilmed up to the 1890s.

While poking around on Ancestry, I came across the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 database. Using it is a bit tricky because, although it is “indexed,” many names are not spelled correctly, at least in Passaic. Another handicap was just in locating the database itself. When I entered “city directories” as keywords and then “Passaic,” no city directories came up in the hits. There were church and fraternal directories, but no city ones. I had to manually search for “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995” and then could browse by state and city/county. Therefore, if you want to look for a city directory yourself, I would suggest the manual search.

I quickly realized that answers to my four questions above might be answered in Passaic city directories. So, what was I able to find?

  1. When did the family stop using Kucharik and start using Sabo?
  2. When did John Kucharik/Sabo die?

I know that my grandfather and his brother, Stephen, both born in Pennsylvania in 1893 and 1897, were baptized as Kucharik. The family was enumerated as Kuharik (sic) in both 1900 and 1910 in Passaic, New Jersey. By 1920, they were Sabo. They obviously settled in Passaic sometime after Stephen’s birth in February 1897 and the 1900 census.

I checked the city directories in Passaic from 1897 onwards. Not a single Kucharik/Kuharik was found in the first decade of the 1900s. Sabo is another story.

First, I have no idea why my great grandfather stopped using his surname Kucharik, which means “cook.” He didn’t Americanize his name, he dropped a Slovak name and adopted a Hungarian name, which means “tailor.” However, Sabo can also be spelled as Sabbo, Sabel, Sabol, Saboll, Szabo, Szabol and Szaboll. That makes it interesting when trying to sort out people and I tend to think my great grandfather was not literate.

In 1899, there are two men with variations of Sabo in the city directory. First is a Frank Sabel, a barber who lived at 102 Second Street and Steve Sabel, who lived at 82 Third Street, and worked as a millhand. This is maybe my Stephen Kucharik/Sabo:

Steve Sabol, 1899

I say maybe because in 1900, I found three Stephen Sabos of various spellings in Passaic. Mine was Kuharik in that census and the family lived at 70 First Street. Of the three Stephen Sabos, I can immediately eliminate two of them as the man in the 1899 directory because they were both under ten years old. The third was enumerated as Stephen Szabol, married with two children. He was a millhand who immigrated to the U.S. in 1889 and was born in 1870. This family lived at 157 Third Street, which doesn’t match either Stephen listed in 1899. See what I mean about them not staying put???

That means either he or my Stephen might be the man in the 1899 directory since I don’t know when either of them arrived in Passaic. It appears there is no Passaic directory online in 1900, so I moved on to 1901, which doesn’t help clear things up at all:

Various Stephens, 1901

We now have three Stephens, living at 177 3rd Street, 204 2nd Street and 60 First Street, any of whom could be mine because they were all millhands. Of course, none of the addresses match any of those from 1899 or 1900.

However, we also now have a John Sabol, working in a saloon at 12 First Street. This could maybe be my grandfather’s brother, John who died between 1900-1910, so I will follow him, too, through the directories.

In 1902, there are two Stephens and one John:


Stephens, 1902

One Stephen is gone, one is actually still living in the same place as in 1901 – 204 Second Street – and one is now at 244 Third Street. There is one John Sabol, millhand, living at 132 Third Street.

By 1903, I think I can pick out my Stephen because of the addresses.

Stephen Sabbo, 1903

Stephen Szabo, 1903

As far as I know, my Sabos didn’t move out of the First Ward around First, Second (today renamed Market) and Third Streets in Passaic. Stephen Sabbo at 110 Second Street is most likely my great grandfather. It also appears that John Sabol found in 1901 and 1902 is now gone. If he was my grand uncle, I suspect that he died in late 1901, during 1902 or early in 1903, depending on when the yearly directory information was collected.


  1. When did the family begin using the Sabo surname? Although the family was enumerated as Kuharik in both 1900 and 1910 AND my grandparents’ 1915 marriage record names George Kucharik, it appears that socially and informally, the family was going by Sabo possibly by 1899 and certainly by 1901. My grandfather’s 8th grade school certificate, dated May 1907, lists him as George Sabo.
  2. When did John Kucharik/Sabo die? If I had to pick one year, it would be 1902, but, depending on when information was collected for a new city directory, he could have died in late 1901 (say, if the information gatherers came around in early fall of 1901 and he died near the end of the year) or as late as early 1903 (say, if those same info gatherers came around early in the year and the directory was published later in the year.) However, I have no idea if his death certificate, if there is one, would be filed under Kucharik or Sabo.

As for where the family lived, as you can see from just a few years’ worth of city directories, they lived somewhere new almost every year and I have no way to separate out men of the same name.

On Tuesday, I will take a look at the Central Market Company and where my grandparents were living in the 1920s.


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