Have you used City Directories as a source? I really love these because on the surface it doesn't look like you are getting much info but you really are.
So what is a city directory? Basically it is a phone book before there were phones. Ancestry.com has been adding more and more city directories to their collections but they only have a small percentage of what is available. The best place to find city directories is in the main branch of the public library in the city you are interested in. The state archives is another great place to look.
City directories are full of abbreviations and each company that put out the directories has their own. All you need to do is look in the front of the book and there will be an explanation of the abbreviations. So what can see find out? Here are some examples from my file:
This snippet is from the 1927 Hattiesburg, Mississippi directory. What can we glean?
- Sercia Simmons [Oliver Searcy Simmons] is assumed alive in 1927.
- He is married and his wife's name is Calley.
- He is a sawyer [works in a saw mill cutting lumber].
- He works for the Hattiesburg Flooring Company.
- He is the householder [a person who lives on a property but doesn't own it, most likely he is renting].
- He lives at 714 E. 6th [St.], Hattiesburg. If there is no designation behind the address then it is Street. All other variations will be written out. If there is no town name then it is the town of the directory. If he lived in one of the burbs, it would have said so. For example, if he lived in the community of Petal it would have been right behind the address.
This one is from the 1882 Augusta, Georgia directory.
- Joseph Dismuke is assumed alive in 1882.
- He is an upholsterer.
- He boards [rents] at 1137 D'Antignac [St.].
Does the entry mean that Joseph was not married? We don't know. This particular directory lists everyone individually. The only females that will be listed will be those that worked.
This one is from the 1902 Shreveport, Louisiana directory. At first you might think there isn't a lot of info here. We know that Ida was alive and unmarried in 1902. She was a nurse at Charity Hospital in Shreveport. If you read my blog post on The Story of Ida Perry, you can understand just how important this little bit of information is.
This is Brookhaven, Missisippi in 1914. I included this one because Brookhaven was a small town in 1914. It still only has less than 10,000 people today. Not just large cities had directories.
- Charity G. Kees is assumed alive in 1914.
- Kees is her married name and she was widowed by 1914.
- She is living with Martin V. Kees [Martin happens to be her 7th son out of 10 boys. Just thought I would throw that in].
- She lives in is house. In this case h only stands for house, not householder as was shown in the first example. That is why you need to always check the abbreviations in every book.
- She lives at 524 E. Cherokee [St.], Brookhaven.
Directories also contain general and statistical information about the city at the time the directory was printed. This will help you put your person of interest in the context of his surroundings.
Here is a nifty website that has info on what directories are available and where they are located. It isn't 100% complete but not bad. US City Directories.
I saved the best for last. You can put the addresses you find into Google Maps and you can see exactly where your person of interest lived. If you are real lucky, there will be a street view photo and if you are real, real, real lucky it will be the same house that your person of interest actually lived in. Here is my favorite example. Remember Ida Perry from above. If you go back and read the post that I dedicated to her you will see how special she is to me. You will also see that she had tuberculosis and moved to Denver, Colorado for health reasons. She died shortly thereafter. If you type in the address of 2222 Newton Street, Denver, Colorado into Google Maps you will see a street view photo on the left. Click that and you will be able to see the house that my Ida died in on 31 Aug 1911. I got that address from her death certificate.
Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis