Here’s 10 tips to absolutely nail it when it comes to finding where your ancestors lived and even find other relatives you never knew you had! It comes down to knowing how to utilize a Federal Census, City Directories, and Street Guides.
The point of this article is to be able to squeeze every bit of BIOGRAPHICAL information you can about an ancestor you are researching by leaving no stone unturned. This method will require a bit of work and careful documentation, but the end results can be very rewarding.
I’ve used these techniques myself to find death dates, biographical information, confirm siblings, and even find new family lines I never knew existed! To make this technique even more valuable, I had NO information on the family I was researching before I started as I never knew about them growing up; I was working completely in the dark on a blank slate.
Now I know it all! I’ve even built an entire family tree just from what I’m going to show you.
The scope and limitation of this technique realistically lies in which CITY/TOWN and in which TIME FRAME you are researching. I researched between 1896 and 1960 in Connecticut, primarily New Haven and surrounding cities which have very well-kept directories. Just apply as many of these tips as you can!
1. Create A Year-By-Year Timeline
If anything, this is the most crucial thing to do. Write a list of every single date you are researching and fill in the address and any other bit of information you can for each year. Note the address at which your ancestor is living as well as the source from which you obtained that information – I use abbreviations in brackets to note the sources; for example, “CD” for City Directory, “PET” for Petition for Naturalization, “DI” or “DEC” for Declaration of Intention, “1920C” for a Census, etc.
Without this all of the other techniques will be like leaves blowing around in the wind. This list is your central database where you will corroborate all of the other information you find from the rest of these tips. Make 1 list per person. Don’t get lazy and try and cram more than one person on a list, make multiple individual lists and then compare the results when they overlap.
The other reason you need to write down addresses for each year is that you might find that in a particular year your ancestor may have been listed in one location while another document might have him or her at an altogether different one. I have encountered this several times, especially during census years. The trick is not to be fooled into dismissing a name as yours just because the addresses don’t match; treat it as “more information is better” because, as I’ve found, it just indicates that they were moving residences during that time. The point is that if you don’t keep a timeline it’s like trying to do math equations in your head without writing down your steps or trying to guess which exit to take in on a freeway system like Dallas-Fort Worth!
2. Don’t Be Fooled By Alternate Names
Oh, boy! Let me tell you about the stresses I’ve had with alternate names and misspelled names! Good gravy, it’s a nightmare any family historian will tell you about. From simple alternations between Howton and Houghton to more complex examples like Mažeika and Meshako you absolutely must be persistent and assiduous in how you research City Directories and Censuses to not let even a single shred of information slip through the cracks.
Every culture and country of origin has its own names and ways to misspell them; notwithstanding is the fact that enumerators and information gatherers were subject to the limitations of their own ears and opinions about others. Foreign sounding names were very frequently butchered! Especially for Eastern Europeans coming in waves during the late 19th century and mid-20th century.
One of the keys to know your ancestor might have an alternate spelling on a City Directory or Census is if they appear in successive years but seem to be missing on one or two. This often means their names were written down wrong and then incorrectly listed in a directory on a page far, far away. I’ve had this happen to me on several occasions.
Gedrim misspelled *Giedrem and alphabetized incorrectly. Italian names often drop the D’/Di- locative/patronymic prefix, Irish names often dropped the O’- and Mac/Mc- patronymic prefixes over time. Polish and German names were often subject to this phenomenon as well.
This is where alternate names get tough! You have to basically dream up every single alternative you can and search the City Directory page by page if you have to; it has amounted to a TON of work for me and some very sleepless nights. If you’re in this situation however, there’s no way around it. Actually, if you’re lucky, there is one way around it and it’s called Street Guides.
The thing to do is to note these names on your timeline, and be sure to note them how they are misspelled. It seems counter-intuitive but in case you need to go back and find the record, you need to remember under which name to look.
3. Street Guide To The Stars
Not all City Directories have Street Guides, but if they do they can be absolute family history gold! For New Haven, Connecticut there are street guides for the years 1913 – 1918. The street guides can be found in their respective City Directories, either in the beginning or towards the end of the directory. If you need to find out if your City Directory has a street guide, just find the index page and it will list it.
A quick word about the street guides, at least for New Haven, CT. There are 2 types of Street Guides: (1) a quick listing of every street and their intersections which only contain the names of streets; and, (2) a comprehensive listing of every street and the names of every resident on that street. If your City Directory contains the 2nd type, you absolutely must search it out, you could be leaving invaluable information on the table if you don’t.
One of my favorite finds that came from utilizing street guides is how I connected my great-grandfather’s family to my great-grandmother’s family and found undiscovered collateral lines for that side of my genealogy. My great-grandfather was living at a specific address which was right next door to where my great-grandmother was staying with her cousins after just arriving in 1905. It turns out her uncle owned a saloon next door in which her cousin worked as a bartender. I’m not sure if they met in the saloon but they were certainly living next door!
Once I’ve found an ancestor on a street guide, while I’m looking at it, I always take the time to just sweep up and down the street to see if I can identify any familiar names. Since coming across street guides is so rare, avail yourself of the opportunity to familiarize yourself with how many people are living at a single address, if there were stores next door, the ethnicities of the names on the street, or any other patterns you can observe.
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