Wednesday, February 15, 2012

City Directories Added on

I complained about the San Diego city directory collection on two years ago in 

Using's City Directory Collection.  It was difficult to navigate and the directories were not always in files for specific years.

While I was at RootsTech 2012, I spoke to Tony Macklin of and he showed me how they are improving the City Directories collection.  I was impressed that they have really improved the search experience, and it appears that they have added additional volumes to the collection.

The current collection is called "U.S. City Directories (Beta)."  Why is it called a "Beta" collection?  The answer is on the collection page:

"This collection was created using a new OCR indexing method that improves searching and results. We believe that this version of the U.S. City Directories database is substantially better than the collection that has been available on Ancestry for several years under the same name. Over the upcoming months, we will be adding more titles from the old database to this collection until it is complete. At that point we will remove the old collection and the “Beta” tag on this one.
"Because this collection uses OCR technology, we encourage you to correct any errors you find in the data by going to the image and editing the name in the correction panel at the bottom of the page."
The home page for the  "U.S. City Directories (Beta)." collection looks like this:

In the right column is the Browse area.  I clicked on "State" and there were listings for California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.  For each state, there are listings for the cities covered.  Once the user has selected the city of interest, the user can click on the "Year" down arrow and see the directory years available.  

I wanted to see what listings they had for my Carringer family in San Diego, so I decided to Search instead of Browse the collection.  I entered "carringer" in the last name field above, chose "San Diego County, California" from the "Lived In" dropdown menu, and made sure all settings were "Exact."  I clicked on the "Search" button:

There were 97 entries in the results list, dating from 1897.  I clicked on the entry for "David J. Carringer" in 1901 and saw the record summary page:

David J. Carringer resided at Horton and Ella in San Diego, and was a "rancher" according to the indexed information.

I clicked on the "View original image" link and saw the page image for David J. Carringer:

There are three Carringers listed on the right-hand page in this image - David J. Carringer, but also H. A. Carringer, a millman at Russ L. & M. Co., owning a home at 30th and Watkins; and also Harvey E. Carringer, a photogr., residing at Horton and Ella.  

From this screen, I can also navigate to browse a directory for another year by clicking on the "San Diego" link in the line above the green menu bar.  I can then see the years available for San Diego:

The years currently available for San Diego are:  1897, 1899, 1901, 1903 to 1943, 1947, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1955 to 1960, 1975, and 1977.  This is many more years than were available two years ago, and they are all in files by year, which makes it easier to browse within a given year.
One of the neat features of the Browse feature is the city information and maps that may be on the front pages of the directories.  In the 1901 San Diego City Directory, the street names are defined based on certain baseline streets.  The screen below shows the information for the street names in the area where the Carringers lived:

From this page, I learned that:
"East of the City Park and north of A Street, the east and west streets are: Harvard, Dartmouth, Amherst, Seaman, Choate, Van Ness, North, Watkins, Horton, Biddle, Union, Tufts, and Oberlin.
"The north and south streets are:  Park, Bay, Cliff, Dale, Ella, Fern, Grove, Hyde and Ida."
I knew before that the Henry Carringer family resided at 30th and Hawthorn Streets later in the 20th century (which was Horton and Watkins in 1901) and that the David J. Carringer residence was at 30th and Ivy Streets (Horton and Ella in the 1901 directory).  Some of the names listed in 1901 are still used today - namely Dale, Fern and Grove Streets (which are currently in between 29th (Cliff), 30th (Horton), 31st, and 32nd Streets respectively). I would love to see a map of this area from this time frame!
I appreciate that has improved the coverage of city directories for the six states provided to date, and has significantly improved the OCR search results for the collection.  In the case of San Diego, they have provided a broad range of the available city directories online - not all are here, but almost all between 18978 and 1960 are provided.  This will enable San Diego area researchers, and distant researchers too, to do online research in these important resources rather than have to find a collection at a repository.
Copyright (c) Randall J. Seaver, 2012.


J. Paul Hawthorne said...

Thank you so much. I just found my grandfather in the 1913 Houston City Directory. He was 14 years old and it listed him as a messenger for the Western Union Telegraph Co. My grandfather used to tell me he rode around on his bike delivering messages for them and when he wasn't doing that he would sit in their office and watch the guys use Morse Code, which he learned and became a relief dispatcher for the railroad. Thanks so much for this information Randy!

Geolover said...

Randy, thank you for pointing to this effort.

They have taken some shortcuts, however. The fragmentary citations attachable to tree individuals lack any publication data and County identifications. The publication data is not available in the database descriptions, nor in the "Source" tab next to the image. Instead there is a message to look in the beginning of the Directory -- but the Title Page is usually not the first page of the Directory and can be hard to find (I usually try the 6th image to start with).

The OCR program has many problems. It omits many people. When an occupation or address is continued to a 2nd line for an individual's entry, the program massacres it, as an entry for another person. Often when spouse names are given in parentheses, the program appends the spouse name to the main entry name (e.g, "Bartlett, H. Peter Phyllis"). It often reads numeral "1" as "L" or omits it entirely.

While a major improvement is the addition of linkable spouse data in many cases, also in many cases the spouse name is not indexed at all.

There is no provision for user addition of omitted persons.

In a 10-name section of the last page I looked at, there were twelve errors of the above sorts, not including the citation and County issues.