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Learn about city directories
Below are case studies on how city directories helped solve a research problem.  Also, take a tour of the 1929 Provo, Utah city directory and the 1850 Denver, Colorado city directory.

Do you have a success story using city directories?  Submit it here, and we will consider publishing it on this site.

Case Study #1: Marsden Brown's 'real' given name
Case Study #2: Finding George Arian's father
Tour of 1941 Reno, Nevada city directory

Case Study #1: Marsden Brown's 'real' given name

Marsden Brown, born 30 Sep 1833 in Tionesta, Venango, Pennsylvania was a mystery . . . until city directories were consulted.  The first of five children born to Asa Clark Brown and Eleanor Huffman, Marsden moved his family to Minneapolis, Minnesota after his service in the Civil War.  Unfortunately, the Civil War Pension Index didn't have an entry for him.  The last known record of him was the 1865 state census in Minneapolis.  After that, he seems to have disappeared.  With a name like Marsden, locating him in various records should have been easy. 

We found him listed in the following city directories in Minneapolis (click on the year for an image of the entry):

1871/72: Brown, J Marsden, carpenter, 3d bet Minnetonka and Helen.
1873/74: Brown, Marsten, carpenter, res Washington av, near 6th av south.
1875: Brown, Marston, carpenter, r. Washington av. bet. 11th and 12th aves. S.
1876: Brown, Marston, carpenter, r. 203 2d av. S.

The 1871/72 directory broke his case open.  In all previous research, he had never been listed with Marsden as his middle name.  We re-checked the pension index, and found an entry for Joshua M. Brown who served from Pennsylvania.  His pension records, though they contained only two pages, gave Joshua Marsden Brown's birth date as 30 Sep 1833.  His Declaration for Pension document, dated 8 October 1908, listed his residence as Seattle, Washington.  He moved west!

All census records, land records, and even the family bible list his name as Marsden, but not until the city directories were consulted were we able to learn his true identity.

Case Study #2: Finding George Arian's fahter

GOAL: Locate information on parents of George Arian, born about 1894 in Russia.

RESEARCH: George Arian was born about 1894 in Russia.  He was found in the 1920 Ohio Soundex living in Cleveland, Cuyahoga Co., Ohio with his mother Rebecca Arian, age 53, also born in Russia.  Rebecca was a widow in 1920, so her husband (and George's father) was unknown.

City directories will list the name of a widow's husband, so the Cleveland city directories were searched, starting with 1920 and working backwards.  In the 1920 directory, Rebecca was listed as the widow of Isaac, and she was living at 2670 E 61st Street.  Also listed for this residence were Geo. (a paperhanger) and Rose (a stenographer).  As seen from the family's Soundex entry, George and Rose were a son and daughter of Rebecca's.  So, city directories also show other possible family members living at the same address.

The 1919 Cleveland directory showed Isaac Arian, a painter, living at 2567 E 59th Street.  Also listed for the same residence were Frank Arian, Geo. Arain (a painter), and Leo Arian (a printer).  George would be Isaac and Rebecca's son, while Frank and Leo may be older sons of Isaac's or maybe his brothers.

Finding Isaac Arian listed in the city directory for the year ending 1919 suggests that he died in 1918 or 1919.  Sometimes city directories even give the date of death for an individual.  Searching the state-wide death index for Ohio for 1918 and 1919, Isac Arian [sic] was found as deceased on 11 October 1918 in Cleveland.  His actual death record shows that he lived at 2567 E 59th at the time - the same address listed for him in the 1919 city directory.  His death record also gave an actual place in Russia to start searching for his parents and continue the Arian ancestry.

Also, to find Rebecca's death record, the Cleveland directories could be search until it appears that Rebecca was not listed anymore and then search the Ohio death index for that year looking for her.  Her death record could provide her maiden name, the names of her parents, and her birthplace in Russia.

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