Category Archives: City Directories

Using City Directories in Genealogy Research

Apart from county tax lists, city directories are among the earliest yearly listings of residents in any given location.

What information can be found in city directories?

Besides an alphabetical listing of persons residing in a town, the types of peripheral information included in the book will vary by place and determined, in part, by the size of the town or city and the year in which the directory was published. Generally speaking, directories published in the early 1900s are rich with details not only about residents, but about businesses, churches, fraternal organizations, transportation schedules, hospitals and asylums, general vitality statistics and schools.

City directories were, in effect, almost yearly town histories. The best thing about them is that they covered changes in the lives of people who rented rather than owned homes.

The main purpose of a city directory was to provide contact information for its residents and businesses.

Abbreviations for locations for often used and a key to them could be found in the front of the book:

Notice that not only was a job location identified, but ‘h’ made the distinction between work place (and occupation noted) and residence. Also noted that some homes had no house number, such as the Aldens, who lived on River Road near the Passaic city line:

So, what are some of the other bits of information found in the Passaic directory? Well, Passaic was in its heyday in the early 20th century. The Table of Contents gives an idea of what was on offer:

The Advertisement index was just as important as the Table of Contents because these businessmen paid for ads to be place and helped the company publishing the book to turn a profit. Obviously, the businesses hoped that residents would notice and remember the ads, bringing in new business.

Was you ancestor the member of any local organizations or active in the community?

The Passaic city directory (population was 28,000) had separate listings for benevolent and charitable groups, contact information for local boards and officials, musical and patriotic groups and even a listing for trades.

What might a city directory in the same time period look like for a smaller town? Brunswick, Maine had a population of about 6,800 in 1900, but it, too, had city directories.

The Table of Contents indicates much more detailed information about the town and Maine, in general, compared to the Passaic city directory published the same year.

In particular, Brunswick’s listings include students enrolled at nearby Bowdoin college along with a directory for the nearby town of Topsham.

However, the first page of listings is in much the same format as Passaic’s:

Now, how does a city directory for Los Angeles in 1900 compare? There is a prominent message right at the front of the book instructing readers to visit their office to browse city directories for places across the United States AND Canada:

Aside from the message, the information is on a bigger scale, given that there was a much bigger population – extensive business listings, street directories, churches, schools, government officials, etc.

Chicago’s 1900 City Directory had a surprise on the title page. A Los Angeles directory could be bought for $6.00 – not a small sum that equals about $210 today – but Chicago’s 1900 directory clearly stated that it could be RENTED for $7.50!!!

The Table of Contents shows a more varied listing than Los Angeles with railroad and steamship information, Military and Transportation Lines.

Don’t think that because your ancestors lived in a small town that there are no city directories available. Topsham, Maine had only 2000+ citizens in 1900, but has its directory included in that of Brunswick, the “big town.”

Typical Information Often Found in a City Directory

Name of head of household
Home address
Employment address
Spouse’s name or widowed with death date
Other family members
Others in town with same surname
Local places of worship
Local businesses
Fraternal/religious organizations
Town history
Town officials
Business advertisements
Numerical directory of streets

Where can digitized city directories be found online?

Ancestry ($$)

Fold3 ($$)

MyHeritage ($$)

The Ancestor Hunt

Boston Public Library

Cyndi’s List

City Directories of the United States of America

Digital Toronto City Directories


Internet Archive – Search by city name + city directory

The Portal to Texas History

Besides providing lots of family clues, city directories are fun to browse and give us a sense of the daily lives of those who lived there, in other words, some social and cultural context.

Don’t overlook site-specific local library, historical society and genealogical society collections! The most important thing to remember is that zillions of city directories have survived the ages and they are being added to digital collections all the time.


More on City Directories and Family History Questions

Yesterday, I tried to answer questions about when my Kucharik great grandfather started using Sabo as a surname and when his son, John, died. I was partially successful, as I determined that, although the censuses in 1900 and 1910 identified his family as Kuchariks, socially they were using the Sabo name no later than 1901.

I also now believe that John Kucharik likely died about 1902, give or take a year.

I also had questions directly relating to my grandparents, George and Julia Sabo. Specifically, I would like to know when they bought the family home at 49 Summer Street and I would love to know when they first opened the Central Market Company, which was a meat market.

When I wrote to the Passaic County Clerk requesting a copy of the land deed for the house purchase, I was told to hire a title company to do the search. That expense just wasn’t worth it, but city directories may answer both of these question, plus give me other addresses where my grandparents might have lived before they bought the house.

Although George and Julia married in 1915, I am mostly interested in the 1920-1930 time period because the meat shop opened in this decade and they bought the house sometime before February 1926, when my dad was born.

In 1920, the census indicates they were living at 10 Cedar Street in Garfield, New Jersey.

10 Cedar Street, Today

Now for the city directory entries:

George Sabo, Laborer, 1920

George Sabo, 1921

This was a complete surprise. It appears that the meat shop opened in late 1920 or early 1921. I had always assumed that they didn’t start the business until later in the 1920s. The store closed in 1951, so it had a good 30-year run, which is amazing since it survived the Great Depression. George’s home was still in Garfield, although it doesn’t give a street address.

George Sabo, 1922

By 1922, George and Julia had moved and, although it doesn’t say so in this entry, Elm Street is also in Garfield. Today, it appears that a bank with a large parking lot has replaced houses that were once there.

George Sabo, 1923

George and Julia were still on Elm Street in 1923 and the market was again mentioned as George’s work place.

The 1924 city directory gives me the answer to my family home question:

George Sabo, 1924

Sometime between 1923 and 1924, George and Julia bought their home and moved to 49 Summer Street.

My grandmother was born in Passaic in 1893, but the family moved back to the village in Slovakia about 1897. Julia returned to the United States permanently in November 1910. I’ve wondered where she lived from 1910 until she married in September 1915. However, as a young female, she wasn’t listed in the city directories and she had many relatives living in the First Ward of Passaic. That question will probably never have an answer.

If you haven’t ever searched city directories online and you have access to Ancestry, I would recommend that you search the card catalog for U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 and then browse the collection by state, city and county. Searching manually through the pages isn’t difficult since the names are in ABC order. I found more than once that someone in my family WAS in a directory for a particular year, but when I backtracked and tried searching for him, the name didn’t didn’t come up in the hits.


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.