Most genealogy researchers understand the tremendous genealogical value of City Directories - they provide the residence, the occupation and often the employer, and the spouse's name. A researcher can track a family over many years using city directories. Some city directories have a street address listing also, so you can determine the names of the neighbors. Lastly, many businesses advertised in the City Directories, so if your relative was employed by a company that advertised, you could find out more information about the company.
http://www.footnote.com/ has at least two ways to find a specific surname in the City Directories -
1) doing a traditional search using their search engine
2) browsing through a specific city directory
Using the traditional search method, the user can put a surname (and a given name if desired) in the Footnote.com Search box. I put "McKnew" in because I'm interested in tracking this family in San Francisco:
I clicked on the "Search" button and received 1,706 matches, listed by Collection Title. I expanded the "City Directories" title to see the individual city collections:
There were 80 matches for San Francisco, so I clicked on that and received a list of matches from the San Francisco directories (there are 15 to a web page, so there are six pages of matches for my Search query):
There are two links beneath the thumbnail picture in the Matches list - one for "View image" and the other for "Quick Look." If you click on the "Quick Look" link, you get a small but readable image of the page with the specific name in question:
This "Quick Look" really speeds up the finding process - you can usually judge if this is a record that you want to look at carefully, or not.
The Matches seem to be in a random order, and even with 80 matches it may be difficult to find the records for a specific year. I wanted to look at some of the Matches, so I started with the first one for 1920, and clicked on the "View Image" link and received:
The traditional search method works fine if there are not too many matches in a specific city directory collection. What if I had been looking for my Smith relatives rather than the McKnew relatives? I would have had thousands of matches in San Francisco rather than 80.
What if I wanted to look at just a few years in a set of City Directories for a surname, and don't want to wade through all 80 matches, or thousands of matches??
To solve these problems, the user can use the Browsing method of finding records for a specific surname in a specific year. I'll demonstrate that search in the next post in the series.