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City Directories: Street Directory

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In 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 directories. These can be very helpful in your research. For example, the census may tell you where they lived, but who owned the house they lived in? Some census records in the 1900s will show if they owned or rented a house, which is helpful, but what about the years between the census? City directories help fill in the gap and the street directory can tell you who owned the houses where they lived as well as neighboring houses. Some census years don’t include streets, so the street directory can show where exactly they lived as well as if and when they moved.

Street Directory from the 1918 Raleigh City Directory

Street Directory from the 1918 Raleigh City Directory

I also learned a few interesting things investigating the Pettiford family in the street directory. Many of the places they lived no longer exist or have become businesses or churches, rather than homes. I’ll talk more about this in the next installment of the series this summer. Another thing I learned was about how the city was constructed from 1875-1930 – did you know Oberlin Road was considered a suburb? Almost the entire population of the city of Raleigh lived in what is now the downtown area. Very interesting to see how the city was constructed during this time. So let’s dig in!

Street Directory of 1875

Before 1911, the street directory was little more than a listing of the streets and where they started and ended. In 1875, the first city directory for Raleigh, there was no street directory, but R L Pettiford was living at the end of Johnson St., which went west to city limits according to a later directory. Johnson Street does not exist anymore, but there is a W. Johnson that gives an idea of where it was located.

Street Directory of 1880, 1891

In 1880, R. L. is not listed, but there is an Elizabeth Pettiford living on McDowell Street 1 block north of Lenoir Street. This gives us an exact location of where she lived. The directory for both 1880 and 1891 is very similar: name of street, the beginning location, direction of the street, and the end. Example: “South Person st, from Newbern ave to South st.”

Street Directory 1883

In 1883, the street directory is a bit different. It’s two pages long and written in essay style. Each paragraph lists all the streets that run east-west between two streets that run north-south. There is no directory for 1886.

Street Directory of 1887-1888, 1896

The directories for 1887-1888 and 1896 are examples of another format for the street directory. In this case, they list the city broken into east, west, north, and south. The East side includes Wilmington, Blount, Person, Bloodworth, East, and Swain. As the map shows, all these streets run north-south. Also, the first street listed is the most western street and Swain the furthest east. The west side starts with Salisbury street (parallel to Wilmington) and moves further west. South side begins with Morgan and continues further south, while the north side begins with Edenton and moves further North. Do you see a pattern here? The first four streets listed for each side bound the state capital building. That helps to understand the layout of the city and how the capital building is the center of the city back then. Unique to 1887, there is a map of the city. This map is what is now the downtown area, but some of the streets have different names. Remember back in 1875, R. L. Pettiford lived on Johnson St.? Well this map shows that the street now known as Peace used to be called Johnson.

Street Directory of 1899-1930

Beginning with 1899, Raleigh street directories provide a lot more information. In 1899, the Pettiford family lived on Oberlin Road, but at this time, it is not even listed. In fact, Oberlin is not even listed until 1905, where it says:

Oberlin – (suburb) one mile northwest of city

It continues to say that until 1909. In 1909, there is another line that reads:

Oberlin Road – north from 1107 Hillsboro to Oberlin

Homes on Oberlin Road were finally listed in 1923, but only a few. In 1924, a few more homes were included, and even more in 1925; it wasn’t until 1927 that enough homes were counted to include the Pettiford family members.

The street directory became more detailed in 1907 and continued in the same format through 1930, which is the most recent I viewed for the purpose of this series. For example, in 1917 Alvin B. Pettiford was living at 521 S Wilmington. In the Street Directory, the entry reads “Wilmington S – south from 102 New Bern Av” and beneath that a listing of every home on that street with the owner’s name. 521 S Wilmington was owned by Alvin B. Pettiford.

Home Ownership

As I mentioned earlier, you can find out who owned the home. In the example of 521 S Wilmington, the street directory shows that Alvin owned that home. Another entry in 1917 lists Betty Pettiford, who lived at 521 S Person. According to the street directory in 1917, Ann Mitchell owned the home at 521 S Person. In 1918, Ann Mitchell still owned that home, but in 1919, 521 S Person was owned by John Reaves, and Ann Mitchell (as Anna) owned the home at 713 S Person. I looked back at 713 S Person in 1918 and 713 S Person was vacant. This is good to show how a person can own a home on the same street multiple years, but they were actually different houses.

The 1900 census was the first to ask if the home was rented or owned. The presents an opportunity to use the street directory to find out who owned the home. If you are trying to trace the home ownership of a house, the street directory can help.

The Government and Heritage Library has Raleigh City Directories from 1875-2016. Come and visit us to take a look.

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.


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