Using City Directories and Newspapers

06.12.2017 |

Episode #10 of the course Researching your genealogy by Alisa Miller


Welcome to Lesson 10: our final lesson on researching your family history. Today, we will look at using city directories and newspapers to find information about your ancestors.


City Directories

Since the 1700s, many cities have maintained city directories. These are a piece of the community’s history, and they’re also a great way to learn about your family. You can find city directories in public and state libraries, and many city directories are cataloged online. If you have access to HeritageQuest through your public library (as I mentioned in Lesson 5), you can search city directories for the years 1821 through 1989.

While looking through city directories, you can find the name of your family member, their address, and other details, such as their profession, a place where they worked, and whether they owned or rented their house. Often, the listing for a family will be under the man’s name, with the woman’s name listed in parentheses or in italics after his.

In addition to specific details about your family members, you can also get an overview of the community in which your family lived at that time. Be sure to go to the first few pages of the city directory. They often include details about the city and the surrounding community. It was also common for local businesses to put advertisements in these directories, so you may learn information about your family member’s place of employment. City directories were updated frequently and provide a great snapshot of that particular era.



Newspapers traditionally used to share not only the big news of the day but also lots of small details about people living in the area. While you may expect to find items like births, engagements, marriages, and deaths in newspapers, you may also be surprised to learn what other details were also shared.

It was common for newspapers to include information we would not see today. If a relative came to town to visit family, the name of this relative, where he traveled from, and who was traveling with him would be in the paper. Information about families going on vacation, local events, and even the state of a resident’s health might be also listed there. No one wants to learn their ancestor was a criminal, but a list of crimes committed and those who were arrested for the crimes often appeared in the paper.

Many old newspapers have been archived. You can search for newspapers in public and state libraries, or you can search for online databases through sites such as this Wikipedia listing of online newspaper archives.

The information you can find in city directories and newspapers may offer details about your family, as well as a splash of color about their lives. This information is a piece of the puzzle you can use to create the map of your genealogy. Along with all the other resources we’ve covered in this course, you should be well on your way to learning about your family and making a family tree that can be valued and passed down for generations to come.

This was the last lesson of the course. Congratulations on completing it and on starting your genealogy journey!

Best of luck,

Alisa Miller


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Recommended book

The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine T. Bettinger


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