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Genealogy Gazette

Volume 6, Number 3
Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369
January 29, 2014


Author's Notes

In this article we discuss using the city directory. Many never even think to look in a city directory, but it can provide great information. The fire maps that are sometimes included also can provide a wealth of information. Hopefully, your local library can help you track down the city directories for your area.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at jimd@mountainpress.com. As always, we enjoy hearing the comments after each newsletter.

Thank you,
James L. Douthat
Mountain Press




Probably one of the least used resources in genealogical studies is the city directory. Many people never even think to look in a city directory because they believe their ancestors lived in a rural area. Even if they know their ancestors lived in a city, they do not realize that there are city directories. For the most part, many of our ancestors did live in rural areas and many cities did not have directories in the early period. Why would you need a city directory if everyone knew everyone else in a community?

However, by the mid to late nineteenth century cities had began to grow and insurance companies were becoming more prominent. Cities had to change their attitudes. It was not uncommon for rural folks to also be residents of a town or city due to the school system. Many well to do farmers, had city residences so their children could attend schools in the cities which fared better than rural schools.

As city directories came into play more and more, additional information was forth coming in them. Of course, we think of the names of the individuals. Later were added the addresses, occupations and sometimes the names of those in the household. Each piece of information is vital to our story of the family.

Beyond the basics as above mentioned, you can get the names of neighbors which may or may not lead to information about side line families. Keep in mind a neighbor could also become a future son-in-law or daughter-in-law, so always take note of them. We can also gain more information on businesses our ancestors were involved with during this time period. For example, were they in the shoe business? They might also be leather workers which mean saddles, harnesses and other materials manufactured in the area.

As you look a little more deeply into the directory, you might find information on the churches, schools and other points of interest in the neighborhoods. If you happen to have letters, diaries or journals from those individuals, then this information will give more information as to the lifestyle our ancestors lived. The information by itself is not always that great, but taken as part of the whole each tidbit becomes important.

If you are lucky enough to find a city directory with your ancestor included, then look also for one of the fire maps produced by various insurance companies. The Sanborn maps in particular are of great value. These maps are produced to give the insurance companies a clear picture of the communities with all of the various part of that community examined closely. They wanted to know where the fire hazards where located within a community. A blacksmith shop is certainly more of a hazard than a dress shop. Anywhere there was fire used, the greater the hazard. Then as now, the hazards determine the rates charged by the insurance company.

The fire maps generally give in great detail a block-by-block description of the land and land use in a particular location. When the area is mapped in great detail, you can find your ancestor’s property as well as the location of the barn, any outbuildings and even the outhouses. Most of the homes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had the “necessary” house as the colonial period called them. If there was a garden or other use on the property, it will be noted.

Now if your ancestor lived outside a town or city with a directory, you may not be left out either. Many of the Sanborn maps will also include areas outside the town or city limits. In our area, we have a detailed map from 1914 before the local town was incorporated. The town was not incorporated until 1919 and the area was not developed until 1913, so this early map is of vital interest as it pre-dates most everything else in the area.

It takes a little digging to find the materials and keep in mind that the local library where you are researching might be of help. A call to the local library just might answer your questions quickly and give you an idea of city directories in your area.

Happy Hunting!



1905 City Directories



Alabama Directory


Arkansas Directory


Georgia Directory


Kentucky Directory


North Carolina Directory


South Carolina Directory


Tennessee Directory



1885 Sanborn Map of Chattanooga



A great source for the street names during this time. Many of the street names have changed since then and new streets have been constructed, but when reading the older newspapers and letters from the area, this will be a great source of information on where the names indicate.

Click here for bigger picture.


If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at jimd@mountainpress.com.