After reading “City and County Directories: Hidden Treasures” on the Ohio Historical Society’s Collections Blog, I was inspired to share some details about the historical local directories available in the Local History and Genealogy departments at the Dayton Metro Library, where I work.
Historical directories are useful in many ways, particularly in genealogical research, as well as research pertaining to a house, building, or business.
In all the directories, you can look up a person or business by name.
For people, the information provided generally includes name, occupation, place worked, place lived, and sometimes their spouse’s name (if any). Very old and very new directories generally tend to include only the name of the head of household, but I have noticed that many times the directory lists each adult resident of a household separately and sometimes teenagers (usually identified as “students” for their occupation).
Some uses for directories in genealogy would be to find out where your relative lived or what their occupation was. If you check every year, you will probably find that they moved or changed jobs over time. When you suddenly notice the presence or absence of that person or a spouse in a particular year, you can get clues to marriage/divorce/death/moving dates.
Keep in mind: it’s just a clue, so you must always verify! But at least it can help give you a good idea of “when” to start searching for a particular event.
Also note: just because they “disappear,” doesn’t mean they died or even that they moved very far away. Many “city” directories only include people who lived or worked within the city limits. If you moved to the suburbs, you stopped being listed in the “city” directory, unless perhaps you still worked in the city. Consider the following entry from the 1914 Dayton city directory:
- Wright, Orville, office 1127 W 3d, also Pres The Wright Co e s Coleman Av s of 3d, res Oakwood.
By 1914, Wright had moved to his new mansion Hawthorn Hill in Oakwood, but as he still had an office in Dayton, he still had an entry in the city directory.
For businesses, the information provided in directories generally includes location and type of industry (e.g., if it’s a factory, it will tell what they manufacture), usually the name of the business owner, and sometimes the names of other company officers.
As the OHS blog post stated, schools, hospitals, hotels, and many other types of buildings/businesses are also included in directories.
I like to think of directories as being like telephone books on steroids: they include basically everything you would find in a telephone book, plus more.
One of the biggest “plus more” aspects of directories is that directories eventually began to include listings that made it possible to search for a particular address and find out what was located there. In the case of Dayton city directories, the earliest year you can search by address is 1914. These listings are in the back of the directory, with street names listed alphabetically. Under each street, the numbers are listed in ascending order, with the name of the person or business next to it. If you are interested in more information about that person or business — now that you’ve found out the name — you can search for that entry in the front (alphabetical-by-name) part of the directory.
Being able to search by address is especially helpful for people researching the history of a house. Directories include the names of the residents of a house, as opposed to just the owner’s name that you would find on a deed.
Many times, house researchers just want to know a little about the families that lived in their home before they did. Sometimes, people think they have a ghost, and learning about the previous residents can help them figure out who might be haunting their home. In another example, I recently helped someone who had found some photographs tucked away in his historic home, and he was trying to find the family to whom the photos belonged, so he could return them.
And now that we’ve talked about some of the ways that historical local directories could be helpful in your research, I’ll give you the specifics on what we have at the Dayton Metro Library.
We have four types of historical directories, all of which are available for public use: city directories, suburban directories, Criss-Cross directories, and telephone books.
City Directories (Dayton only)
- Years 1850-Present (almost every year) available in both Genealogy Reference and Local History Reference
- Include listings within the city limits of Dayton only;
- Include people who lived within the city limits, businesses located within the city limits, and usually people who worked within the city limits;
- Includes yellow-pages-like listings for businesses by type;
- Search by address possible from year 1914-present;
- Later years can be searched by telephone number to get the person’s name.
- Years 1956-Present available in both Genealogy Reference and Local History Reference;
- Includes listings for suburban areas of Montgomery County only (areas of Montgomery County that are outside the Dayton city limits);
- More recent years are split into North and South editions;
- Search by address possible in all years;
- Search by telephone number to get the person’s name.
- Years 1945-Present available in Local History Reference;
- Years 1954-Present available in Genealogy Reference;
- Similar to the search-by-street-address portion of regular city/suburban directories, but only gives street address, name, and phone number;
- Includes city of Dayton, suburban areas of Montgomery County, and some nearby areas outside of Montgomery County;
- Search by telephone number to get the person’s name.
- Years 1919-Present (most years) available in Local History Reference;
- Both white pages and yellow pages available for most years;
- Includes the “Greater Dayton area” which includes city of Dayton, suburban areas of Montgomery County, and some nearby areas outside of Montgomery County;
- Cannot be searched by address.
The materials discussed here are available in the Magazines & Special Collections division of the Dayton Metro Library, located in the basement of the Main Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. They are available for public use anytime during regular library hours.
If you are unable to visit the library, a librarian can assist you with requests that are “clearly defined and limited in scope.” If you need a quick look-up in the directories, please submit an electronic reference question. For other questions about directories, you can contact the Dayton Metro Library or leave a note on this blog.