Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Getting Cozy with City Directories

Today I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon working on my own family history. I felt guilty for doing so, like I should have been doing something else, but that's another blog post.

I spent that time hanging out in the U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (Beta) database at, as well as the directories at Fold3.

By searching the Milwaukee and Chicago city directories from 1883-1896, I was able to put together a residential and employment timeline of the short adult life of my great-great grandfather, Harry Baerecke. He died of tuberculosis at age 28.

My search experience left a bit to be desired. Ancestry's search results did not retrieve records for 1884, 1885 and 1886, though Harry was clearly in those directories. I manually searched through those years to find them. I previously had the same experience searching for Thibodeaux in old Los Angeles directories.

So consider this your friendly reminder to not fully rely on's generated search results. Get thorough when searching city directories (or anything for that matter) at any website. You'll be glad you did.


  1. Amy:
    Thanks for your post.

    I have taken to always browsing Ancestry's beta directories rather than counting on their search function. That gives me the opportunity to look through the directory for additional town/city information that I might otherwise miss. And since everything is alphabetical, anyway, it really doesn't take much more time.

    I have found their search function useful when I wanted to locate other people with unknown and different surnames at the same address. Just put the address in the keyword slot.

  2. I was so glad when ancestry added city directories and I found information that we didn't know before. I need to take your advice and search for those years I didn't find with the search function.