*Note: Since I’ve not a had a chance to explicitly clear the use of his ancestor’s names, I will avoid anything that might identify the client’s family (including the source citations)*
City directory research can be a lot like tax research, with the addition of occasional pictures and advertisements thrown in for spice. Wading through each consecutive year can become a bit tedious. Why do I care what my ancestor’s address each year was, or where he worked? Believe it or not, tracking your ancestor each year through their appearances (or non-appearances) in city directories, paying attention to those who may have lived with or near him or her, and knowing your ancestor’s occupation at a given time can help you sort out people of the same name.
I am currently working on a client project where city directories provided the key piece of evidence needed to help confirm the identity of his ancestor in a marriage record. The client knew his ancestor had been married twice, and had found the first wife’s death register entry, coroner’s report, funeral home record, obit, and cemetery record – none of which provided any clue as to her maiden name. No marriage record had been found in the county where his ancestor was born, lived, and died.
The first wife died in 1898 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, at which time the husband would only have been 25 years old, which helped narrow the range of potential marriage years. I was able to find a likely marriage record in Canton, Stark, Ohio for people with the same names in 1894. But how do I know that this couple 60 miles away is the same couple? I turned to the city directories. The ancestor appears in the 1891-1893 city directories as a baker. He is not listed in the 1894 city directory, but is again listed in the same area in 1895, again as a baker. The surname is not very common, and he is the only person of that surname listed as a baker. I found it rather interesting that the only year this person was not in the city directory happened to be the same year of the Stark County marriage record.
What do I do next? Since they’re available (although not online), it’s off to the Stark County Library to check Canton city directories. Starting in 1890, there is no one of that surname listed through 1892. There is no one of that name listed from 1895 forward, but as you may have already guessed– in one directory, the 1893-94 directory, this man is listed. He is listed as a baker. He is boarding with his employer (the owner of the bakery), and even better- so is the woman that he will wed later in 1894!
While more work remains to be done, and the woman’s past continues to elude me, the information that the city directories provided helped make a very strong case that we’ve successfully determined the first wife’s identity and his ancestor’s marriage date/location. And just as importantly – using only addresses, noting occupations, and connecting the dots, we can reconstruct at least a small part this couple’s early life together and begin to tell their story.
Cleveland city directories can be found on Fold3.com from 1861-1923. Later years are available at the CLeveland Public Library and Western Reserve Historical Society. Canton and other Stark County towns are found at the Stark County District Library, Main Branch, in Canton, Ohio. All marriage records were accessed using FamilySearch’s “Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-1994″ database
- The Official Cleveland Directory for the Year Ending July, 1890, (Cleveland: Cleveland Directory Co., 1890), 490; digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com: accessed 20 Nov 2012). [↩]