Posted by on August 31, 2009 in Content

I received the following e-mail from an Ancestry Weekly Discovery reader and since the answer could be useful to many of you, I thought I’d answer it here.

I have done extensive New York City directory research. Sometimes addresses appear with an h. for house, particularly if the person also has a business address.  But sometimes there will be someone listed at the same exact address, but with no h. so I don’t know if I should assume it is the residence or whether there is a business there also.  Can you offer advice?

Thanks,
Phyllis

The presence or absence of an “h” for house or home in city directories can sometimes be misleading. The information and format often varied from publisher to publisher and from year to year. While some books clearly explain the use of abbreviations in the introductory pages, others make it necessary to study a few pages of address entries until a pattern emerges.

It also helps to keep the publisher’s motives for printing a directory in mind. In almost every case the primary reason for the printing of the book was not just to list the names and addresses of local residents, but to sell advertising.

It’s possible that there were multiple residences in the dwelling, but urban families often lived over a storefront or a shop. It can be helpful to look at the occupation of the individual in question. If that person was some type of shopkeeper for example, it is quite possible that the family lived in the same building.

For example, there are three listings of grocers with the surname Behnken  in the 1881 Brooklyn City Directory, none of which include the h. abbreviation.

Behnken

By locating these gentlemen in the 1880 census, we can see that despite the lack of that h. annotation, the address in the directory is the same address given in the 1880 census where they are living with their families. (Click here to see John’s entry.)  Also look at state censuses and other records that include an address for clues as to whether an address was a residence, business, or both.

Tips:

  • When you’re trying to match an address with a census year, the directory for the year following the census year will likely be your best bet. Directories typically ended on May 1st because that was considered “Moving Day” in many cities. Information gathered during the latter part of the census year, would be included in the following year’s edition. More information on “Moving Day” can be found in this New York Herald article from 30 April 1869.
  • If your ancestor advertised his or her business in the city directory, you may find it listed in an index of advertisers like this one. The advertisement may give additional information as to whether the address refers to a business, residence or both. In the case of James Morrison, “housemover,” the ad for his company below gives the additional information that this is a “Yard and Residence.”

James Morrison

  • Because the format and abbreviations used may have varied depending on the directory publisher, browse to the introductory materials that are typically found at the very beginning of the directory and look for abbreviations used (usually found just before the residential listings) to learn more about the directory you are using.

DirAbbreviations

About Juliana Smith

Juliana Szucs Smith has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

6 Comments

Theron Menee Terhune 

My family has been looking for years for information about my great grandfather, RF Menees, born around 1870+-. I’m not even sure where he was born. I do know he died in 1899 in Indianapolis. The death certificate had his name spelled wrong. It was spelled Manease. It should have been spelled Menees. His wife’s maiden name was Rebecca C. Dorsey, born around 1872 in Virginia and died in 1901 in Indianapolis. She was remarried and died as Katherine Marcy (or something like that). I lnow Rebecca had Dorsey siblings. I know nothing about RF (Robert Frank?) Menees. I’m hoping I can get someone like a relative of the Dorsey family who can give me information on Rebecca and possibly even RF Menees from Dorsey or Menees family history and/or pictures. How do I get this information in a place it can be seen for any comments?

Thanks,

Theron Menees Terhune

September 8, 2009 at 1:12 pm
Melquiades velez 

I need to find/trace my mothers

relatives and her history.

Also I want to begin a family tree?

Thank you

September 8, 2009 at 4:01 pm
Jan 

Always check the table of contents page for a list of abbreviations used for that directory, since they may vary with each publisher. Juliana posted the section in her directory where ‘h’ does stand for ‘house — but in the directory I’m browsing right now, ‘h’ stands for ‘head of household’ and ‘r’ stands for ‘resides with householder’ (not ‘house’ vs. ‘renter’ as some might assume).

September 11, 2009 at 11:59 am
CHRISTINE BESS 

IAM TRYING TO FIND MY MOTHERS MOTHERS NAME MY MOME NAME IS PEARL KINLOW SHE WERE BORN SOME WHERE IN SOUTH CAROLINA BUT I DON’T WHERE IF THERE IS ANY ONE CAN HELP ME FIND HER I LOOK IN THE ANCESTRY BUT I GOT NO HELP HER FATHER NAME WERE ROBERT KINLOW

September 13, 2009 at 2:10 pm
Sabrina Walker 

Years ago when I was on your site, I researched my father & you all had his military records. Now, since I have renewed my subscription, his records are not there. I was on your site around 1999, or maybe 2000. This was when you did not have to join/free membership. Can you tell me what happened to that information?

September 13, 2009 at 4:58 pm
Pat 

I am really upset with your new census search system! I have used a ream of paper today trying to get a copy of the census page I needed and all I got were 5 sheets of garbage! Also, the screen with the green that you take us to now is so inconvenient I can’t tell you. YOU and your business take up most of my screen so I am unable to totally see all of what I’m looking for. I do not see this as an improvement and now I’m wondering why I pay for this? Next year, if things don’t improve, I won’t! Can you explain these ‘upgrades’ for the common person and not a computer geek? Pat

September 13, 2009 at 7:15 pm