City directories are an invaluable tool for learning more about your ancestors. Some you will find transcribed and online, while others will be available at historical or genealogical societies.
The role of city directories is especially important in filling the gap left by the loss of virtually all the 1890 Census records. City directories at this period often included a person’s employment, work address and a second address, typically a residence. That’s considerable detail for one brief record.
An early city directory for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, helped me discover quite a bit about my gg-grandfather Sherman A. Bradley soon after he arrived from Connecticut. The relevant entry was on the page of B surnames in the 1857-1858 Milwaukee City Directory on the excellent volunteer Web site Links to the Past for Milwaukee.
The entry is terse but informative: “BRADLEY: Sherman A. Carpenter, bds Mrs. Luscomb.” Census records show that he was born in 1835, so now I knew he was 22 or 23 years old when he was working as a carpenter in the young but rapidly growing city on Lake Michigan. And, because he was boarding with Mrs. Luscomb, it seems likely that he arrived in Milwaukee on his own.
To be thorough, I decided to look up Mrs. Luscomb to see if she had an entry. Sure enough, on the page of L surnames, I found: “LUSCOMBE: Mrs. Fourth, bt Cherry and Galena, W.” At first I was simply pleased to know where Sherman was living, but suddenly I realized the address looked very familiar!
I had researched Benjamin Church, an early pioneer carpenter and builder in Milwaukee and my ggg-grandfather. His famous Greek Revival home, built in 1843-1844, was rescued in the 1930s, moved to Estabrook Park and made a small history museum. [See my Wikipedia entry on the Benjamin Church House].
Just to make sure, I looked again for his listing on the page of C surnames in the city directory. There it was: “CHURCH: B. Builder, Fourth, bt Galena and Cherry, W.” Clearly the same neighborhood as the Luscombe home, a fact confirmed by census records that placed the Church and Luscombe homes next door to each other.
Why was this one of my favorite genealogical discoveries? Because I had found how Sherman A. Bradley had met Ann Marie “Hannah” Church, the oldest child of Benjamin and Permilia Church. On January 6, 1859, Sherman and Hannah were wed, a union that would extend our Bradley lineage when son Jesse Charles Bradley was born June 22, 1866.
Put city directories on your research list when you are seeking to fill in gaps in your family story.
This is one in a series of genealogy and family history research ideas to help you find your family and ancestors for modest or no cost.