Most city directories that are easily available online are usually ones whose original copyright has expired. Fold3 and Ancestry.com do have digital images of city directories as a part of their services, but Fold3‘s collection tends to concentrate on urban areas before the early 1920s and Ancestry.com‘s collection includes some post-1920 era directories, but the content is spotty and certain areas are more well-represented than others. Some specific city and regional directories have been put online by local genealogical societies, libraries, etc.
Since I’ll be going to the Allen County Public Library in August and will have a limited amount of time for my own research, I’ve decided to concentrate on city directories while I am there. The library has a significant collection of United States city directories, both in print and microfilm. Many of the microfilmed directories are available online on one or more websites.
However, I need to plan before I go to the library as there’s no need to use there what I have access to online.
Fold3‘s collection concentrates on pre-1920 era urban United States cities. Personally the only large areas in which I have an interest are Chicago, St. Louis. Even if I don’t have time to search them completely before I go to the Library, I should at least determine what years are online so that I can check the Allen County Public Library card catalog and see if the library has directories that are not on Fold3 or any other site.
Ancestry.com‘s collection is larger than that of Fold3, but their site’s collection of directories after approximately 1920 is somewhat spotty. Tracking people effectively in city directories requires as many extant ones as possible.
As I prepare for my trip, one approach might be to start with a list of towns and cities for which I want to access city directories. I should then establish a time frame in which I am interested for each location (including a list of names). Since I already have Ancestry.com and Fold3 memberships, I should determine first which directories these sites have. Then I should determine if there are free online directories for any dates neither Ancestry.com or Fold3 have.
Then I’d have a list of directories that I can’t find online and which I’ll hope to find at the Allen County Public Library. Their card catalog will tell me which ones they have for the missing periods in my list. Then those are books I can add to my search list.
Before I get to the library, I’ll want to have a list of the towns whose directories I want to search and the names I want to search for in those directories. My list will be long, so organization is key. The collection of city directories at the Allen County Library is significant. A list sorted by location of the directories I want to search will help me make best use of my research time.