Cool Stuff You Can Find in City Directories

It’s been awhile since I checked out Fold3 (formerly Footnote), so today I explored the site again to see what new records were available. The site is geared toward military records, but they also have some other choice items. I stumbled across the section for city directories and thought I’d look into Wisconsin and Minnesota for towns I’m researching. I wasn’t expecting much since most websites I explore don’t have the places and timeframes in which I’m interested.

Well, today I was in luck! City directories were available for St. Paul, Minnesota during the 1860s and 1870s! I had looked at a handful of directories from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City several years ago, but Fold3 had a few extra ones.

St. Paul Directory for 1867, vol 3 (St. Paul, MN: Bailey & Wolfe Publishers, 1867) 83, FHL Film 1377507.

One item I totally forgot about from my SLC trip was a nice little ad for Joe’s mom, Jemima, advertising her millinery skills. After her husband, Samuel, died in 1859, she took up her former hat-making trade to support her young family. This ad from 1867 was a great gem confirming her continued work. Researching women is often challenging since it can be difficult to find evidence of a woman’s existence and contribution to her family and society. Check directories for women’s names, you just might find out your ancestor owned her own shop!

While you are looking through the directories for family names, don’t forget to make a note of what someone did for a living. You might be able to glean a few more details if you find out about someone’s trade or who their employer was.

St. Paul Directory for 1869 (St. Paul, MN: Ketchum-Crawford Publishers, 1869) 178, FHL Film 1377507.

William S. Peck, Joe’s step-father, was listed as a painter in the 1869 St. Paul directory.(1) It only listed his work address as 18 W Fourth. I could have stopped there, but when I looked up painting companies in the trade listings, the only business at that address was  Beck, Roberts & Co.(2) My patience finally paid off as I scrolled through EVERY page, and I found an ad for Beck, Roberts & Co. describing the type of painting work the company offered. If I didn’t take the extra time to dig a little deeper to try and answer a few simple questions, I would have missed the wonderful addition to William’s story.

Take your time looking through city directories, you just might be surprised what you find. Directories are often a wealth of local history with biographies, the history of the town’s founding, maps, street listing, information about local government, elected officials, businesses, churches, schools, and fraternal organizations…just to name a few. Make sure you don’t forget to add these fantastic sources to your research plan!

(1) St. Paul Directory for 1869 (St. Paul, MN: Ketchum-Crawford Publishers, 1869) 137.
(2) St. Paul Directory for 1869 (St. Paul, MN: Ketchum-Crawford Publishers, 1869) 223.


2 comments on “Cool Stuff You Can Find in City Directories

  1. You can find links to a whole bunch of St. Paul city directories on my Hennepin County, Minnesota Online Historical Directories page, here: I’ve got links to both free and pay-for-use sites. I haven’t added the ones from Fold3 yet, though.

    Happy Hunting1

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