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RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees
Guide No. 20:  City Directories and Newspapers


Windows on the past

Such ordinary things as city directories — a list of residents for a particular locality and year — can be used as tools to unearth valuable information about our ancestors.

Before the end of the 18th century several major cities, such as Philadelphia, New York and Boston, had regularly published city directories. By 1860 there were more than 70 which were published at regular intervals. Others were published at irregular intervals many other communities.

While city directories are used frequently by genealogists for locating people in a particular place and time, they may, in some instances, provide additional information such as occupation, names of adult children still living at home and whether a woman was a widow or head of household. Street directories, often part of city directories, can be used to help determine the ward or census enumeration district where an ancestor resided. This information is particularly valuable when tracing urban ancestors in the various unindexed federal and state censuses.

City directories often contain what is called a "reverse" street directory, which lists streets alphabetically with the names of people residing at each address. These can be used to identify other members of the family at the same address who had different surnames. As American cities grew the directories became more detailed, often containing special sections pertaining to businesses, churches, and organizations.

Addresses of churches can be useful for narrowing the search for those located near to where your family resided. In large cities it can be a time-consuming task to ascertain which churches were in existence at particular times — city directories can be helpful for this type of research. If you learn the name of the minister who performed the marriage of your ancestors, a city directory listing for him might provide you with the name of the church of which he was a pastor.

City directories often indicate whether one was an owner, renter or boarder. If a person was listed as an owner, then there should be a record of when the property was purchased and/or sold. Another use is for determining when an immigrant ancestor first appears. Armed with that data, one can search for naturalization records more easily. Directories also can be useful in identifying and sorting out persons of the same name — by address, ward, occupation and wife's name.

Not everyone was included in these old directories. Ancestors might not have been at home when the data was compiled or refused to answer the canvasser's questions. Moreover, in some cases, working class families are excluded, as are entire ethnic neighborhoods. Many directories are not alphabetized accurately and watch out for variant spelling of surnames and typographical errors.

City directories are widely available in libraries. While most public libraries, historical societies and state archives have rather extensive collections of their own in-state directories, some have directories of other major cities. Many older city directories are available in microform and can be accessed through the Family History Library and its local branches throughout the country.

American repositories with large collections of city directories include:


The Press in America

Printing in what became the U.S.A. was first performed in Massachusetts in January of 1639. However, it was not until April 1704 that the first newspaper was printed — in Boston, by the postmaster, whose office was then regulated by the colonial government. The first attempt to start a regularly published newspaper was Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, issued in Boston on Sept. 25, 1690. It was shut down four days later by the governor for publishing "doubtful and uncertain reports." The second American newspaper was published 21 Dec. 1719, also in Boston, and the third paper, The American Mercury, was published 22 Dec. 1719 in Philadelphia. On 16 Oct. 1725 New York got its first newspaper — The New-York Gazette. Those published before 1775 were weekly papers. Soon after the end of the Revolutionary War, daily newspapers began appearing, first in Philadelphia and New York.

Newspapers can be wonderful sources of information for local history as well as a genealogical data. While a few American newspapers date to the 17th century, mostly they are helpful in locating information pertaining to our families who lived in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In them you may find marriage and death notices, business and personal advertisements, legal and personal notices and local news pertaining to your families. Local news can include mention of the illness of family members, voter and jury lists, school and social events, church and fraternal organizations' functions, political meetings, along with news pertaining to merchants and the movers and shakers of the community.

While some original issues of newspapers are extant, most originals are too fragile to use, and as a result many have been microfilmed and can be obtained on interlibrary loan. Some newspaper abstracts have been published in book forms or may have appeared in various genealogical periodicals. To determine which newspapers exist for your research area and where you can access them consult what are called union catalogs. These identify which libraries or repositories have what editions of particular newspapers.

Many states have printed bibliographies or union catalogs on newspapers published within their state. The state archives or library is the repository most likely to have such guides. They can save you considerable time and frustration.

If the newspapers of interest to you have been indexed, it will make your research easy. But many have not. To locate indexes for newspapers use: Milner, Anita Cheek. Newspaper Indexes: A Location and Subject Guide for Researchers. 3 volumes. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1977-82.

The microfilms of many newspapers are available at state archives, state historical societies, major libraries within the state and university libraries. They can usually be borrowed through interlibrary loan at your local library. First determine if a newspaper exist for your locality and time period of interest; and if so, the name of the newspaper and the repository that has it, then your local librarian can help you obtain it on ILL.


Family History Library Sources


Newspapers Collections


American Newspapers

The United States Newspaper Program is a cooperative national effort among the states and federal government to locate, catalog, and preserve on microfilm newspapers published in the United States from the 18th century to the present.

Listed below by state with date of statehood in parentheses are links to various repositories with newspaper collections. ILL — indicates microfilm copies available via interlibrary loan from the particular institution.

Alabama (1819) — This state has a law requiring that all county newspapers which carry legal notices be maintained by that county's probate judge. However, few of the county collections are complete. ADAH Newspapers on microfilm, by county: The Alabama Department of Archives and History, 624 Washington St., Montgomery, AL 36130 has the state's most inclusive collection of this state's newspapers — ILL

Alaska (1959) — Several indexes to various Alaska newspapers are available. See Red Book for details. Consult The Alaskan Newspaper Tree by William R. Galbraith (Fairbanks: Elmer Rasmuson Library, 1975) which is a bibliography listing newspapers concerning Alaska available at the Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska at Fairbanks (and elsewhere). Alaska Newspaper Project. Some newspapers published by Alaskan natives are on file at Oregon Historical Society in Portland, Ore. Alaska Historical Library, POBox G, Juneau, AK 9981 has some 20th century newspapers — ILL.

Arizona (1912) — Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, State Capitol, 1700 W. Washington, Phoenix, AZ 85007 — ILL. Arizona Newspaper Project. Also Arizona Historical Society, 949 E. Second St., Tucson, AZ 85719; Phoenix Public Library and University of Arizona Library have collections.

Arkansas (1836) — Arkansas History Commission, One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, has approximately 700 Arkansas newspapers published in about 200 different localities from 1819 to present. It also has an index to the Arkansas Gazette 1819-1881 and 1964-83. Also newspaper collections at University of Arkansas, Available in print: Arkansas Newspaper Abstracts, 1819-1845, by James Logan Morgan, published by Arkansas Research.

California (1850) — California State Library, POBox 942837, Sacramento, CA 94237-0001 has California newspapers from 1846 to the present, including long runs of at least one title from each county. A large portion of the collection is available on microfilm and may be borrowed through ILL. Its California Newspaper Index contains references to items in various San Francisco newspapers from 1904 to 1980, plus a printed index for the San Francisco Call extends this coverage back to 1894. Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley also has extensive collection of statewide newspapers.

Colorado (1876) — Newspaper collection is at Colorado Historical Society, 1300 Broadway, Denver, CO 80203 and Denver Public Library, 1357 Broadway, Denver, CO 80203. Microfilm copies may be purchased. There is an unpublished card index to The Rocky Mountain News, 1865-85 at Western History Collection of Denver Public Library.

Connecticut (1788) — Connecticut Newspaper Project. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1 Elizabeth St., Hartford, CT 06150, has on microfilm (with index, 1764-1820), Connecticut Courant — an early newspaper dating from 1764, and an excellent source for marriages and deaths in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York. Also check Hale Index — a source of more than 90 newspapers (1750 to ca 1870) on microfilm for marriages and deaths. The Hartford Times ran a genealogical query column from 1910 to 1967. It has been indexed and filmed by Godfrey Memorial Library in Middletown and is available in many major research libraries.

Delaware (1787) — The Historical Society of Delaware, 505 Market St., Wilmington, DE 19801 has a large collection of early northern Delaware newspapers. Southern Delaware newspapers are at Delaware State Archives, Hall of Records, Dover, DE 19901. University of Delaware Library has union list of Delaware newspapers. Also check neighboring states, such as Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

District of Columbia — Most of its newspapers are on microfilm at District of Columbia Public Library, 901 G St., N.W., Washington, DC 20001. This includes Daily National Intelligencer, which began publishing in 1800.

Florida (1845) — Florida State Library & Archives, Florida Collection, R. A. Gray Building, 500 S. Bronough St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250 has extensive collection with some papers dating back to 1829.

Georgia (1788) — The Georgia Department of Archives and History, 330 Capitol Avenue, S.E., Atlanta, GA 30334, and University of Georgia Library, Athens, GA 30602 are major sources for microfilmed newspapers. Currently it is difficult to obtain these outside of Georgia. Also check newspaper collections for Georgia and its various counties in the Family History Library's catalog.

Hawaii (1959) - The Family History Library has the newspaper, Nupeka Kuokoa, 1861 to 1927, which includes genealogies. FHL film 1,020,698-729). Some Chinese newspapers have been microfilmed by the University of Hawaii. Native Hawaiian genealogies were published in Hawaiian-language newspapers from 1834 to 1900 and are published in Hawaiian Genealogies: Extracted from Hawaiian Language Newspapers (Laie, Hawaii: BYU, 1983-present) by Edith Kowelohea McKinzie with Ishmael W. Stagner II, editor. Also see: Hawaiian Language Newspapers and Hawaiian Historical Society.

Idaho (1890) — The Idaho State Historical Society, 325 W. State St., Boise, ID 83702, has all available newspapers published in the state on microfilm and this collection, except for Idaho Statesman, is available through interlibrary — ILL. The Idaho Statesman, from 1864, is available at Boise State University.

Illinois (1818) — Contact historical and/or genealogical societies in the localities in which your ancestors lived to determine what indexes have been compiled of genealogically important data from local and county newspapers. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 112 North Sixth Street, Springfield, IL 62701, has an extensive microfilmed collection (about 4,900 titles, covering all 102 counties) of Illinois newspapers. Many date from the early and mid-19th century, with the earliest dated 1814. The database of cataloged and inventoried Illinois Newspaper Project can be searched online. ILL. The Chicago History Museum, North Avenue and Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614, has an important collection of Chicago newspapers.

Indiana (1816) — Indiana State Library, Genealogy Division, 140 N. Senate Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204 has a large newspaper collection — ILL. The Indiana Collection Vertical File at Allen County Public Library, 900 Webster St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802 includes newspaper clippings. Indiana requires its county recorders to maintain for public use, bound volumes of all newspapers published in their jurisdiction. Some of these start as early as 1852. Another source is Abstracts of Obituaries in the Western Christian Advocate, 1834-1850, (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1988) which includes genealogical data found in more than 8,000 obituaries in this Methodist church newspaper, which is not limited to Methodists, and covered Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois as well as Indiana.

Iowa (1846) — State Library of Iowa. State Historical Society, 402 Iowa Ave., Iowa City, IA 52240, has A Bibliography of Iowa Newspapers, 1836-1976.

Kansas (1861) — The Kansas Historical Society, 120 W. 10th Ave., Topeka, KS 66612, has an excellent collection of Kansas newspapers. Contact the society regarding purchase of newspapers and in re ILL

Kentucky (1792) — For ancestors who resided in early Kentucky counties, consult The Kentucky Gazette, which was published in Lexington. It and other Kentucky newspapers are available on microfilm from: Kentucky Historical Society, Old Capitol Annex, Broadway St., Frankfort, KY 40601; University of Kentucky, Margaret King Library, Lexington, KY 40506; and The Filson Historical Society, 1310 South Third Street , Louisville, KY 40208.

Louisiana (1812) — Louisiana Newspaper Project. Consult Louisiana Newspapers, 1794-1961, by Theodore N. McMullan, published in 1965 by Louisiana State University Library, Baton, Rouge, LA 70803. The State Library of Louisiana, POBox 131, Baton Rouge, LA 70821 offers some newspapers via ILL.

Maine (1820) — Folger Library at University of Maine at Orono has the largest collection of microfilmed newspapers. It has a computer printout of listings with its holding and a typescript entitled Maine Newspapers in the Smaller Maine Public Libraries. Also check local libraries, Maine Historical Society Library, 489 Congress St., Portland, ME 04101, and Maine State Library, State House Station 64, Augusta, ME 04333 for indices to various newspaper vital statistics.

Maryland (1788) — Maryland State Archives, 350 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis, MD 21401 has many newspapers, guides to and abstracts from them, including Newspapers of Maryland: A Guide to the Microfilm Collection of Newspapers in the Maryland State Archives. A published Union List of Newspapers in Maryland Libraries was done in 1977. Many newspaper abstracts have been published also. University of Maryland, McKeldin Library, offers ILL.

Massachusetts (1788) — The largest collection of microfilm copies for this state can be found at Boston Public Library, Copley Square, Boston, MA 02117. Also check Massachusetts State Library, 341 State House, Beacon St., Boston, MA 02133. Boston Evening Transcript, a genealogical column of queries, answers and notes was published from 1894 to 1941 and indices to it and Hartford Times are available at Boston Public Library.

Michigan (1837) — The Library of Michigan, Michigan Library and Historical Center, 717 Allegan St., Lansing, MI 48909, has an extensive collection of microfilmed newspapers that are available for use at the library and ILL. Also check at Bentley Historical Library, 1150 Beal Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48109, and Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48202.

Minnesota (1858) — Minnesota Historical Society, Historical Building, 690 Cedar St., St. Paul, MN 55101, is the best source for Minnesota newspapers which date from 1849 — ILL.

Mississippi (1817) — The Mississippi Newspaper Project has plans to microfilm this state's newspapers, which are in the process of being catalogued. Contact Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History, P.O. Box 571, Jackson, MS 39205 and major academic libraries in Mississippi.

Missouri (1821) — The State Historical Society of Missouri, 1020 Lowry St., Columbia, MO 65201, has an excellent newspaper collection — ILL. A Catalogue of Missouri Newspapers on Microfilm is available for $10. The Missouri Historical Society, Jefferson Memorial Building Forest Park, in St. Louis, MO 63112-1099 has obituary clippings dating back more than 100 years — mostly from eastern Missouri newspapers and an almost complete collection of the Missouri Republican, which began in 1808 and the Missouri Gazette, which was published until 1919.

Montana (1889) — Montana Historical Society, 225 N. Roberts, Helena, MT 59601 has the largest newspaper collection in the state covering most of the newspapers ever published in the state — ILL. Many papers on microfilm can be found at Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59715, and University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812.

Nebraska (1867) — Nebraska State Historical Society, PO Box 82554, Lincoln, NE 68501, has microfilmed Nebraska newspapers dating from territorial days to the present. Guides are available (about $4) from the society. Contact regarding ILL. Many early Nebraska newspapers have been indexed and the indices will be checked by historical society's staff.

Nevada (1864) — Microfilmed newspapers are available at Nevada State Library, Nevada Historical Society, both located at 716 N. Carson Street, Suite B, Carson City, 89701, and University of Nevada Reference Library. Also at University of Nevada at Las Vegas and Reno. See: The Newspapers of Nevada: A History and Bibliography, 1854-1979, by Richard E. Lingenfelter and Karen Rix Gash (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1984). See also Red Book (pp. 427-428) for list of indices of Nevada newspapers and their locations.

New Hampshire (1788) — Check with New Hampshire Historical Society, 30 Park St., Concord, NH 03301. Post-1900 newspapers, along with some pre-1900 ones, are on microfilm at the New Hampshire State Library, 20 Park St., Concord, NH 03301 — ILL.

New Jersey (1787) — Large collections of newspapers are at New Jersey State Archives, State Library Building, 185 West State Street, CN-307, Trenton, NJ 08625-0307, and at New Jersey Historical Society, 230 Broadway, Newark, NJ 07104. Many New Jersey newspapers have extracts in print and were published in the five volumes of New Jersey Archives, 2nd Series.

New Mexico (1912) — Try University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, and local public libraries. The Albuquerque Public Library has a collection of territorial newspapers.

New York (1788) — New York State Library, Humanities/History, Cultural Education Center, 7th Floor, Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12230. Checklist available for $4. The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, NY, NY 10024-5194, has one of the largest collections of 18th-century newspapers in the country. Also local libraries have important collections of newspapers and often have abstracts of marriages and deaths. See also: United States Resources: New York

North Carolina (1789) — The most extensive collection of North Carolina newspapers on microfilm is at N.C. State Archives, 109 E. Jones St., Raleigh, NC 27611. Available for purchase. Also check with local public libraries and academic libraries, especially University of N.C., Chapel Hill, NC 27514 and William R. Perkins Library, Duke University, Durham, NC 27701.

North Dakota (1889) — North Dakota Historical Society, Heritage Center, Bismarck, ND 58505-0179 has a good collection of newspapers — ILL.

Ohio (1803) — Ohio Historical Society, Archives-Library Division, 1982 Velma Ave., Columbus, OH 43211 and the Western Reserve Historical Society, 10825 East Blvd., Cleveland, OH 44106 has extensive collections. Many local historical societies in Ohio have obituary files. Also check with both historical and genealogical societies in the county of interest.

Oklahoma (1907) — Oklahoma State Historical Society Library and Archives Division, 2100 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73105, and the University of Oklahoma Library, Norman, OK 73019 have pioneer and Indian newspapers; OHS has about 90 percent of all Oklahoma newspapers ever published.

Oregon (1859) — Oregon Historical Society, 1230 S.W. Park Ave., Portland, OR 97205 has a microfilmed newspaper collection of papers published in more than 100 Oregon cities from 1846 to 1980 — ILL in Oregon only. Some pre-1880 Oregon newspapers are available at the Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley.

Pennsylvania (1787) — State Library of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth, P.O. Box 1601, Harrisburg, PA 17105, has the state's largest collection. Contact for information about ILL.

Rhode Island (1790) — Rhode Island Historical Society, 121 Hope St., Providence, RI 02906, is official repository in state for all published newspapers. It has almost every state newspaper known from 1732 to the present, including a nearly complete file of the Providence Gazette (1762-1825). Abstracts of vital records from newspapers can be found in several other repositories and the society has some abstracts and indexes.

South Carolina (1788) — South Carolina's newspapers, dating from 1732, that are on microfilm, are available in public and university libraries throughout the state. Large collections of newspapers are available at S.C. Historical Society, 100 Meeting St., Charleston, SC 29401, the South Caroliniana Library, University of S.C., Columbia, SC 29208, and Charleston Library Society, 164 King St., Charleston, SC 29401.

South Dakota (1889) — South Dakota State Archives and State Historical Society, 900 Governors Drive, Pierre, SD 57501-2217 have an extensive collection of most of the state's newspapers — ILL.

Tennessee (1796) — Tennessee State Library and Archives, 403 7th Ave., N., Nashville, TN 37219 has large collection of newspapers and a card index to marriage and death notices published in Nashville newspapers. The Draper Manuscript Collection at Wisconsin State Historical Society, 816 State St., Madison, WI 53706 includes some early Tennessee newspapers.

Texas (1845) — Texas State Library, P.O. Box 12927, Capitol Station, Austin, TX 78711 has some Texas newspapers are on microfilm and some extracts have been compiled and published recently.

Utah (1896) — Utah State Historical Society, 300 Rio Grande, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, has an index of obituaries published in Salt Lake City newspapers from the beginning of their publications. The Deseret News began publishing in 1850.

Vermont (1791) — Vermont State Library, Supreme Court Building, 111 State, Montpelier, VT 05602 has an excellent collection, beginning with the first publication in 1781. They are microfilmed — some ILL

Virginia (1788) — Library of Virginia, 800 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219 and Virginia Historical Society, P.O. Box 7311, Richmond, VA 23221 have extensive collections of Virginia newspapers, along with many indices. The Virginia State Library has some ILL — inquire for specific newspapers that are available. The Virginia Newspaper Project.

Washington (1889) — Washington State Library, State Library Building, Olympia, WA 98501, has a large collection of newspapers on microfilm and guides to the collection are available from this repository — ILL.

West Virginia (1863) — West Virginia State Archives, Division of Culture and History, Cultural Center, Capitol Complex, Charleston, WV 25305, and West Virginia University Library, Colson Hall, Morgantown, WV 26506 have microfilmed newspapers, and the Family History Library has more than 1,100 microfilms of West Virginia newspapers including the Wheeling Register dating from 1863 to 1913.

Wisconsin (1847) — State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 816 State St., Madison, WI 53706-1488 has an outstanding newspaper collection — the second-largest collection of newspapers in the U.S. Many are on microfilm and available through ILL.

Wyoming (1890) — Wyoming State Archives, Barrett Building, Cheyenne, WY 82002, has the most complete microfilmed collection in the state.


Suggested Reading & References


Additional Resources


Links in this Guide
(in order they appeared)

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