Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New York State City Directories


One of the most difficult things for genealogists to locate are City Directories for places far-removed from where they live.  In the case of New York State which was the origination point for many Jewish families who later spread all over the United States and to other parts of the world, this is especially true.  Many times libraries may have copies of City Directories, but they are usually reference works and cannot be checked out by local residents or visitors or borrowed through interlibrary loan by non-residents.  Calling the reference librarian may be a good means of getting this type of information, but many may not want to spend the long distance or overseas charges for these calls.

To this end, Ancestry.com has recently made available on-line a group of City Directories for the State of New York which are located under Directories and Member Lists on their site.  These directories enhance the research capabilities of New York State genealogists for various years ranging from 1836 to 1962.  
The following listing provides the communities and the years which are on-line:
Albany (1928, 1953, 1957)
Goshen (1928)
Pittsford (1914, 1938)
Greece (1938)
Pleasantville (1910, 1919)
Hampton (1914)
Andover (1932)
Harrison (1900)
Hartsdale (1910, 1919)
Poultney (1914)
Belmont (1932)
Hawthorne (1910, 1919)
Benson (1914)
Horseheads (1928)
Rensselaer (1928, 1953)
Berwick (1962)
Hubbardton (1914)
Binghamton (1927, 1939)
Rochester (1897, 1938, 1962)
Johnson (1927)
Rutland (1914)
Rye (1900)
Brandon (1914)
Katonah (1910)
Scarsdale (1910, 1919)
Brewster (1910)
Kingston (1917)
Scio (1932)
Brighton (1938)
Larchmont (1919)
Bronxville (1910, 1919)
Lockport (1927)
Sherwood Park (1915, 1916, 1917, 1919)
Buffalo (1927, 1934, 1938, 1940, 1941, 1956)
Mamaroneck (1900)
Canandaigua (1932)
Manhattan (1931)
Castleton (1914)
Middletown (1928)
Thornwood (1919)
Chappaqua (1910, 1919)
Mount Kisco (1910, 1919)
Tonawanda (1922, 1927)
Chittenden (1914)
Mount Vernon (1915, 1916, 1917, 1919, 1925)
Troy (1932, 1947)
Clarendon (1914)
New Rochelle (1919, 1928, 1936)
Tuckahoe (1910, 1919)
Cohoes, Waterford (1932, 1947)
Valhalla (1910, 1919)
New York (1836, 1857, 1859, 1915, 1917, 1925)
New York City (1915, 1916, 1917)
Watertown (1944, 1958)
Elmira (1928)
Newark (1927, 1931, 1933)
Webster (1938)
Endicott (1927)
North Tonawanda (1922, 1927)
Wellsville (1932)
Fair Haven (1914)
Wester (1938)
Fairport (1938)
Owego (1930-1931)
White Plains (1910, 1919)
Gates (1938)
Pelham (1915, 1916, 1917, 1919, 1925, 1928)
Pelhams (1936)
The City Directories provide a remarkable amount of helpful information such as names of residents, home address, business address, occupations, and other personal or pertinent data, all alphabetically arranged by surname.  You can look by the name of the individual in the search engine provided or you can go to the list of communities and pick a particular year and then a specific letter of the alphabet.  By searching in this manner, you can see all names and perhaps pick out ones which may be yours which are spelled in a peculiar or unlikely manner. 


An example of what one might find in the different directories is the 1916 New York City Directory.  Looking for the family name of SACHAR, you will find the following information:


SACHAR, Anne  bkpr  r 83 Willett
SACHAR, Isaac (Horn & Sachar) h Bkn
SACHAR, Jacob (Gebeloff & Sachar) r 113 E. 170th
SACHAR, Louis (Sober & Sachar) h Bkn
SACHAR, Louis slsmn r 26 Henry
SACHAR, Miron bkbndr r 509 E. 173 d
SACHAR, Moses h 26 Henry
SACHAR, Wolf opr h 83 Willett


A brief translation of the abbreviations in the listings is:


R = residence
H = home
Bkpr = Bookkeeper
Bkn = Brooklyn
Slsmn = Salesman
Bkbndr = Bookbinder
Opr = Operator


As you can see, several of the Sachar individuals lived at the same address and are therefore probably related.  A profusion of business names and addresses are given which is very helpful indeed.  You can use the name of the business to trace information on your ancestor’s occupation and whether the company is still in existence.


If you were to look at World War I Draft Registrations which usually have workplaces listed, you can match them with these listings to confirm that you have the correct person you are looking for.  An example is Louis Sachar who is listed as a salesman in the directory.  The World War I Draft Registrations have a Louis Sachar, but he is a tailor and lives in Brooklyn and therefore can be disregarded in this comparison test.  Another listing is for a Louis Sachar, living at 26 Henry Street, on June 5, 1917, with an occupation as a shoe salesman at Lord & Taylor on 5th Avenue.  This is the correct one as he matches the directory listing of “SACHAR, Louis slsmn r 26 Henry”.


In addition to the above list of directories, Ancestry.com had already put the 1890 directory for New York City on-line which accommodates approximately 384,000 residents.  This is an especially important resource due to the lack of an 1890 U.S. Census.  An example of what one might find, are the eighty-nine listings for the name FREUND.  Amongst these are individuals in the following professions:  importers, embroiderers, brewers, tailors, pawnbrokers, real estate, furriers, fancy goods, musicians, piano makers, lawyers, weavers, liquors, decorators, cooks and conductors. 


In addition to occupations, there are a number of listings for widows very often with the name of their deceased husband provided.  This helps to both determine that an ancestor had already passed away by 1890 and perhaps the name of the spouse, if unknown up to then.


To broaden the scope of research, an investigator can even just go to the parent search engine for all Directories and Member Lists on the Ancestry.com site.  In this way, they can find their family name wherever it may be listed in all of the resources Ancestry.com has on-line.  Using this strategy, I plugged in the name LIPSIUS which is unusual enough to be able to find easily.  Surprisingly, I found numerous listings all over the United States from the 1800’s to the 1940’s in places as far removed as California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, and Wisconsin.


However, if one looks up another uncommon name, that of MOKOTOFF, one finds again many listings.  This time there are thousands of them spread out all over the United States in a larger proportion than one would think for such an unusual surname.  Seeing this was the case, I decided to check and see what the listings actually were.  Picking one at random from the 1888 directory for Manchester, NH, I found that the OCR scanning software had incorrectly highlighted “McDuffie” and not Mokotoff as there was no Mokotoff listed.


Imagine, if you will, if you had a more common surname to look up and found thousands upon thousands of entries only to determine that they were mainly incorrect after you had slogged through all of them.  Unfortunately, from that standpoint, the database is a bit flawed, but still fairly reliable for name searches. 


All in all, making these resources available on-line is a tremendous boon to genealogists.  It is hoped that Ancestry.com will continue to digitize these resources.  Utilizing more advanced scanning recognition technology would be a big improvement in this area as well as having a bit better quality control for these types of databases.


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