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City Directories: Tracing a family through three generations

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In December 2016, I talked about the basic information in city directories and how they can be helpful for research. In this post, I want to show you how I used city directories in conjunction with other records to trace the Pettiford family of Raleigh. I learned a lot from tracking this family from 1875-1930. Finding this them in the city directories led me to other records, such as deeds, marriage records, and in some cases, just confirmed relationships as you can see from the image above.

a portion of the 1891 Raleigh City Directory that shows the Pettiford Family

1891 Raleigh City Directory


I chose to trace the Pettifords as I already was familiar with them before 1865. In fact, I spent about 10 years focused just on them during the antebellum period. They were what was called “free persons of color,” meaning they were free African Americans during the time of Slavery.  Some lived in Raleigh.

Let’s begin with Roscoe Lee Pettiford who was born May 1836 according to the 1900 census. He married Sarah Smith in 1855. They had a son name Alvin Bryant born March 1865 according to the 1900 census. Alvin married three times; all or most of his children were born from his first wife, Lavinia (or Luvenia as it is sometimes spelled) G. Hardy, who he married in 1887. They had 3 sons William Bryant, Alvin Bryant, and Rosco Lee who were all born between 1887-1894. There may have been other children, but these are all the ones that I researched.

Information Found in Raleigh City Directories

Roscoe the elder, as R L Pettiford, appeared in the 1875/1876 city directory as a coppersmith. He did not appear again until 1883 as a tinner. In 1887 and 1891, he shows up as Ross and R L, a tinsmith for Julius Lewis & Co. In 1899, he has his own tin business on 145 S. Wilmington Street in what is now downtown Raleigh; his sons Alvin and Jesse both work for him. In 1903, the business moved to 103 S Blount street.

Alvin Bryant made his first city directory appearance in 1899. As his father, he is also a tinner. He is listed with his brother Jesse, both of whom work for their father at the shop on 145 S. Wilmington. He is listed continuously through 1913/1914 and then continuously from 1917-1930.

Alvin Senior had 3 sons – Alvin Junior, Roscoe L, and William – who appear at various times in the city directories. Roscoe is first seen in 1905-1909 and next 1919-1930. His jobs vary from a general laborer to tobacco worker. William is only listed in 1913/1914 as a laborer. Alvin Junior is found only in 1927 as a cook.

Roscoe and Alvin, the elders, were the only homeowners before 1930. Some years, their wife is named as well as a denotation for race. Example is Pettiford Roscoe L (c; Adelaide). Due to the recurring names, listing the wife helps to identify which Roscoe or which Alvin.  Race is sometimes notated with an asterisk, such as *Pettiford Alvin, rather than a (c) as in the previous example. Names are sometimes misspelled. Alvin sometimes is spelled Allen or Averin. Only the provision of home address and/or wife makes it clear who he really is.

Additional Information

After viewing directories covering a fifty-five year span, I became even more curious about this family and searched for more information. When I saw all the similar names, sometimes with wives listed, I looked into their marriage records. This turned out to be a great idea as Alvin B, the elder, had 3 wives between 1887-1925. Another document that I later found showed that the three sons named above were all from his first wife, who he divorced.

Also, when I started, I knew of Roscoe L, the elder, but not of the others. It was very helpful to find these family members in the census. There were a lot of Pettifords in the city directories, so the census helped me reconstruct the families and figure out the relationships.

Did you know city directories still exist? We have Raleigh City Directories through 2016 at the Government and Heritage Library. Raleigh city directories began in 1875. You can find them online at as well as at the Government and Heritage Library. DigitalNC has city directories for many towns in North Carolina. The next installment of this series in March will look at the street directories.


  1. […] the last installment of this series of city directories, I talked about tracing the Pettiford Family in Raleigh City Directories. Today’s topic is about the street directory found within city […]

  2. […] tracing a family through three generations […]

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