Monday, January 11, 2010

Using Ancestry.com's City Directory Collection

Ancestry.com has updated their City Directories collection. It is difficult to figure out just which cities and which years were added in this latest update - perhaps they will tell us in a blog post or press release.

I wondered if the relatively new "Browse" function would work in this collection, and I wondered what directories, if any, were added for San Diego City and County. I went to the City Directories collection page, and saw:



Yes, they do have the "Browse" function operational for this collection. I selected "California" as the state in the screen above and selected "San Diego" from the city list in the screen below:



For "San Diego," the "Choose..." box showed city directories available for 1897-1901, 1936, 1937, 1938, 19040, 1942, 1943, 1944-1945 and 1947-1948, 1947-1948, 1959 and 1975. I don't recall seeing 1959 on that list previously, so I selected it from the list:


The screen then showed the link for "San Diego, California, 1959" below the browse choices:



When I clicked on that link, the first page (of 2,194 pages) opened for my perusal:



I could then "browse" one page at a time through this collection, or I could input an image number (not a page number of the directory!) to advance in the book until I found the surname or street I want to find. There didn't appear to be a way to "search" in this "browse" mode - if there is, I would love to know how to do it!

There is another way to find your people in these directories, and that is to do a Search using the Search fields on the City Directories collection page. Here, I input "Seaver" in the last name field, "California" in the State field and "San Diego" in the City field:



If I wanted to narrow the search to only one year, or a range of years, I could have entered a year in the Year field, and added a range of years. I didn't do that for this search, but that is how a researcher would narrow a search to a specific year if they desired.

I clicked on the orange "Search" button and saw the list of matches for all of the San Diego City Directories in the Ancestry.com collection:





There were ten matches for "Seaver" from the 1959 Directory, and I finally found the right link for the alphabetical listing (on page 904 of the Directory, but image 1144 of the digitized pages):




There are three Seaver families in the Alphabetical portion of this Directory, including my parents Seaver, Fredk W. (Betty C.) a dist[rict] ag[en]t [for] Prudential Ins[urance] h[ome at] 2119 30th [St.].

Another one of the links took me to the Street Address portion of the Directory with my father's name and phone number:



Here I can see the telephone number that my family had - it was AT 1-4182 (it was the same backwards and forwards!). I can also see the neighbors on both sides of 30th Street. To see neighbors on Fern Street or another street, I have to go back to search for them or put image numbers in the search box to find them.

There is another set of pages - by phone number for San Diego - in this particular book, so there are matches in the Search Results list for these pages also.

The "Browse" function on Ancestry.com works well for this collection - but you do have to do the browsing yourself using image numbers if you choose that option.

If you want to search a specific City Directory, then you can use the Search fields, enter the Surname, the State, the City, and the Year. The problem with this search method is if you have a common name (e.g., Smith), then you will get links for ALL of the Smith entries, including the street address pages and phone number pages. As an example - there were 1,242 matches for Smith in 1959 in San Diego - that's way too many to search one by one for the Alphabetical pages - it would be easier to browse for the alphabetical Smith pages, then browse for specific addresses. The alphabetical Smith pages are not necessarily at the top of thel ist, since the name "Smith" is also in business names or street names in the Alphabetical list.

This Ancestry.com indexed search finds every name in the directory, unlike Footnote.com which finds only one name per page and makes you browse through the specific directory.

But Ancestry.com has only selected City Directories available in the collection, while Footnote.com has collections up to about 1923 for many of the larger cities.

2 comments:

Katie O. said...

I was just using the City Directories in Ancestry, for Brooklyn, and discovered that at least some of them aren't in order. It seems that the pages in a given directory may have been scanned in batches, with some of the batches done in reverse order? It's very frustrating, as it makes paging through OR skipping to page X of XXXX a very inefficient way of finding anything!

Miriam said...

I know this latest collection was added by last fall, because in October I posted this.