In part 2 of “10 Tips For Researching Census, City Directories, Street Guides” we’re going deep into the matrix of information to reveal a few advanced techniques for uncovering hidden information only a trained professional would be able to detect. I’m going to show them to you.
If you haven’t done so, read 10 Tips For Researching Census, City Directories, Street Guides – Part 1. There are 3 absolutely essential and indispensable tips in there for your research success. Our list continues with #4.
4. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
For immigrant families, fitting in was enormously important in the late 19th and early 20th century, so much so that people often altered or ‘Americanized’ their last names just to do so. Having a pronounceable name was social credit that made you more likely to get hired and economics was the name of the game for our immigrant ancestors who sacrificed EVERYTHING for their families.
Trying to find a relative on a city directory or census that altered their name is one of the most time consuming tasks in all of family history research. It’s often daunting but it can be done. One of the ways I’ve successfully accomplished this Herculean feat is to follow a sibling that did NOT change his name but lived in the same vicinity as my ancestor.
For example, my great-grandfather was listed under 8 different names between 1909 and 1920, while at the same time his brother did not change his name! So, what I did was make a timeline for both brothers (see tip #1) and then compared all of their addresses and plotted those addresses out on a map to reveal that, where I could identify them, they were always living on the same side of town fairly close to one another.
Knowing that fact led me to be able to go back to the city directories and find which name had the best chance of being my great-grandfather’s. Highlighted in yellow below is my great-grandfather’s brother and above him my g-grandfather who shortened his name to *Stanis, he would later change it to “Standish.” My mind also starts wondering who this Joseph fella is living at 242 Wolcott?
Here’s another example of him under a different misspelling. What ended up confirming these misspellings as my relative were the addresses; as you can see this 68 Haven St address is the same as was listed on the 1920 Census, even though his name appears as “Alex Standish” on the Census. He was also listed under that Wolcott address under another, similar name in a different year which is why it is imperative to make a timeline.
The trick with this technique is to know when a person IS or ISN’T related. Sometimes it’s just not possible. For example, this “Joseph Staniszewski” at 242 Wolcott St could very well be related but it’s the only year he appears on a city directory. I would have to hunt this person down to see if I could dig up any immigration records or other documentation on him to either confirm or deny – it would amount to an additional line of research.
More often than not, the city directories will be your best friend in determining if a person is related or just happens to have a similar name. For example, my ancestor used the name *Stanis once or twice, but I can easily confirm that this Antonio and Paul Stanis are not related because in a subsequent city directory Paul returned (REM) to Pennsylvania. As far as I know, our family never settled in Pennsylvania but I am filing it away for future reference just in case.
Finally, look deeply for overlapping addresses. They don’t have to be in the same year but if you can spot 2 brothers, or relatives, living at the same address a few years a part that might be a clue that they once lived together. It’s a bit circumstantial but it does help to tighten the noose or close the corral gates, so to speak, on corroborating information, especially if those addresses are near to each other.
5. A Census Isn’t Just About Names
The name column on a census is the undisputed ‘big man on campus;’ however, there is a whole other team of players that support the big, buff all-star player who constantly gets the limelight. One of those key players, a kicker if you will, is the address column.
I am always in the habit of looking at where an ancestor lived, street wise, when I look at census data. It took me a while to pick up this habit so I’m going to pass this tip on to you. This is especially true if you are looking to find ancestors on city directories!
You absolutely need to see what censuses tells you in relationship to city directories because of the difference in time intervals in which the two were taken. It’s an additional source of information in a field where information can often be very hard to come by.
In census years you get two address snapshots, one from the census the other from a city directory, this is a good thing and not monotony. Be aware that you may get what seems to be conflicting information from both sources in a census year which is not really conflicting at all. Take a look at the timeline below.
If you find the census year (1920) on there you can see my great-grandfather was listed at 2 separate addresses according to 3 different sources. Holy conundrum, Batman! Well, it’s actually not that bad is what I’m trying to say. If you look upwards to the years 1918 and 1919 you can see that he was living at 68 Haven Street. If you look at his residence for 1921 it has him at 272 Front Street. Both of these addresses appear in the line for 1920.
The conclusion is that he moved houses in the year 1920 from 68 Haven Street to 272 Front Street. Without making a timeline, you would have no way of proving that. We can further substantiate these facts given that the 1920 Census for New Haven, Connecticut for the street on which my g-grandfather was living (68 Haven) was enumerated on January 11th, at the beginning of the year, therefore it came first!
6. Collateral Lines Lead To Finds
This is one of my family history research mantras. If you’re trying to find where you ancestor was on a city directory but are unable to locate that person, try and follow collateral lines that you know about like cousins or a spousal family.
For example my great-grandfather arrived from Lithuania in 1906, his brother in 1904. What has been eluding me is finding them on ANY city directory, or anywhere for that matter, between the years 1906 and 1909. Believe me, I’ve searched all of the surrounding cities as well. The first instance of seeing my ancestor on a city directory or census is in 1910.
Going back to tip #5 above he had different addresses listed on the census and the city directory, he was one elusive guy I tell you. One of those addresses is the tip I’m going to show you regarding collateral lines.
The address ’89 James St’ really meant nothing to me until I started to track down my great-grandfather’s wife-to-be’s addresses and place them on a timeline. As it turns out my great-grandmother’s cousin with whom she was staying lived at 89 James St in 1906. Coincidence? Maybe!
As it turns out, that family owned a saloon at 111 Chapel Street in New Haven, CT where great-grandma’s cousin Stephen was a bartender. My great-grandfather later ended up living at 109 Chapel Street, already married with children, in 1912. Coincidence? Maybe!
That ‘cousin’ family lived at that 111 Chapel Street address (and then 109 Chapel Street) up until 1914. The point is there is definitely a connection between all of them! What I can surmise is that my great-grandfather was living in the vicinity of 89 James and 111 Chapel Street during the years 1906 through 1909 not only because of the address co-occurrences, but also due to the fact that their first child was born in 1909 and they were enumerated as a single household (mom, dad, and child) in 1910.
What city directories may not directly tell us about an ancestor, they can often reveal information indirectly if we apply good old family history/genealogical research. Often times new immigrants lived as boarders or were not counted in a household as the head of the house at a particular address due to social norms or lazy enumeration, it’s just reality. However, it is our duty to find any means necessary to exhaust all avenues of logical research to find out all we can about our beloved family history. The tips in this article come from my successful research techniques!
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