Why genealogists love City Directories

A city directory is an alphabetical list of all adult residents in the city, giving home address and usually the occupation or employer.  City directories were published (with some exceptions) on an annual basis.  The Grosvenor Room has Buffalo directories 1828 to the present. Our collection also includes directories for specific WNY areas, including Niagara Falls, Lockport, East Aurora, Hamburg, and Tonawanda, as well as select cities and towns throughout the nation. Click here to view a guide to our directories.  

Why you’ll want to use them for genealogy:

  • Finding an ancestor listed in the directories will help identify which years they resided locally, and can be a clue in determining the year of death.
  • Often the person’s occupation, employer, or business address is listed, allowing you to learn more about their life.
  • In some years (Buffalo: 1929 to present), you are able to “reverse look-up” the street address to identify the family members in the same household.
  • Knowing an exact address will also help you determine the ward and enumeration district to cross reference your ancestor in census records.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Expect gaps in coverage. Directories are usually but not always published on an annual basis, especially when it comes to the towns and villages outside of Buffalo.
  • Women’s names rarely appear in directories before the 1920s unless they were widows or heads of households. Children’s names do not appear at all.
  • Directories often contain inaccuracies, or may be incomplete. If you don’t find your ancestor, be sure to check for misspellings.
  • In most cases, the towns and villages in Erie County first began to be included in the Buffalo city directories after World War II (1945). Unfortunately, with a very few exceptions,there are no 19th century city directories for the towns and villages of Erie County.

The city directories are a fantastic resource, but when they are not available for the time period or area you are researching, remember that there are some alternatives you can use.

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