Similarly, Boston’s city directories at the Boston Public Library begin with directories from the 1720s. The company still exists, but its business is now information services related to the automotive industry (CARFAX is a Polk operation).
There have been many different directory publishers, but the largest publisher of old city directories was the R. Polk Company, producing directories for every major city in the U. During the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s, the R. Polk Company had offices in the 50 largest cities of America, where a free library of the current city directories for that city area could be visited in person.
They are usually located in the public library serving a particular city.
When I first started in genealogy, I was living in Seattle, where I soon discovered the wonderful collection of city directories at the main Seattle Public Library.
Their collection of city directories, with some gaps in the early years, dates back to 1877. From about 1885 forward, the collection is complete for every year, with an annual city directory for Seattle and its environs.
Each directory listed the name of a resident, an address, and sometimes more information, such as a person’s occupation.
The Internet has caused the death of many printed genealogical sources, including the annual printed city directories for most cities of America.
Virtually every city in America with a public library has a collection of city directories for that city.
In some years, there was more than one directory from competing directory companies, and adding to the resources are Seattle telephone directories for over 60 years.
The city directories provide an unmatched source for finding the exact place a person lived, and often an alternate source to identify residents for a particular time period.
See: https://sites.google.com/site/onlinedirectorysite/ Old city directories are some of the most underused genealogical sources available.
Yet, the old directories exist for virtually every community in America, and often to the earliest time of settlement of a community.
Here is an example I found in a city directory for the town of Whatcom (now Bellingham), Washington for the year 1893: The five entries above read like a family group sheet!