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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


Using City Directories for Research: Basic Information

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Page 95 of the Raleigh City Directory of 1880-1881

Raleigh City Directory 1880/81

City directories are a great resource to add to genealogy sources. City directories have been used in the U.S. since the 1700s in some areas and in North Carolina since the late 1800s. One of the first directories in the state was for Wilmington in 1860. Rural areas are rarely included, but if they lived close enough to a large town to be considered a suburb, they may be included. However, what we consider rural now, may not have been then. Over 100 towns in 63 counties of North Carolina have city directories.

In my own research, a city directory allowed me to discover information about my great-great-grandfather that other sources, such as census, did not. This includes information about his exact residence, where he worked and found out his boss was his brother-in-law; I also learned what that business did through an advertisement I found within the book.

This is the start of a multi-part series. This post will focus on the basics of city directories. In January, I will show how city directories have helped me to trace a family through multiple years and what I can learn from the information found. Later in the spring, I’ll talk about other uses for city directories in genealogy research.


Census Tips: 1830 Census

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Map of county boundaries of NC during the 1830 census The census day of the 1830 census occurred on June 1st and twelve months were allowed to complete the census. Information given was as of the census day, not the day of enumeration. In cases like this, the census may have been enumerated on  December 1st with an age given as 12, but that age was as of June 1, 1830, so it’s possible there was a birthday between the census day and the date of enumeration.

The 1830 census was the first to have a printed form for enumerators to use. Not only that, but there were two copies. After the census was finished, one copy went to Washington, D.C. while the other copy went to the clerk of the district court. Because of problems with missing pages with earlier censuses, the senate wanted to ensure that they would not have missing records. In some cases, copies that went to D.C. went missing and copies from the clerks of district courts were sent to replace them. The copies in D.C. were the only ones transferred to the National Archives.


Your Ancestor’s “Fan” Club

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image of a red brick wall

October is Family Heritage Month! Many researchers run into brick walls with their research. There are different methods we can use to break down those brick walls. One such method is finding and using your ancestor’s FAN Club.

Like you, each of your ancestors had a FAN Club.  Your ancestor’s FAN Club was made of his Family and Friends, his Associates and his Neighbors.  The records left by these close contemporaries of your ancestor may contain the key to breaking down your own family history brick walls.


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