by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG
I am not writing about an automotive directory, government listing of agencies and/or staff, an education directory, or a directory of health, human, or social services. I am most definitely not talking about a recycling directory even though all of these have been called blue books. In my mind, a Blue Book is a directory of prominent residents, a social register of prestigious community members and club members.
According to en.Wikpedia.org, a Social Register is a directory of names and addresses of the powerful and wealthy individuals who form the social elite, though until recently not necessarily the political or corporate elite; inclusion in the Social Register was formerly a guide to the members of “polite society” in the “social Register cities” such as Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, New York, Kansas City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and San Francisco. I have seen some of these registers with longs lists of the â€œbestâ€ clubs for both men and women, maps showing the elite areas where the individuals resided, and someone recently told me they had seen one with seating charts of the theaters in the area.
My Own Family
At the Minnesota Historical Society, I found my maternal great-grandaunts listed in a few social registers for St. Paul, but they did not appear regularly. By the 1940s and 1950s these sisters lived on welfare as their circumstances changed. None of the rest of the family appeared as I suspected. I would have been shocked to find any of the others. On my paternal side, my great-granduncle James E. Stuart appeared in several for Chicago. I had figured I would find him listed. His brother, my great-grandfather, definitely did not appear in any of the places he resided. (Moving often to keep ahead of the landlord seeking rental payments just did not qualify him for such directories.)
St. Louis Register, 1924/1925
â€œThe Social Register St. Louis, 1925â€ was published by the Social Register Association and the title page also says November 1924. One section noted â€œhonorable discharges from Service in the late war.â€ Some individuals in this St. Louis directory had residences in other states and countries; other sections included Club Abbreviations, Social Register, Marriages of 1924, Deaths of 1924, Married Maidens, and Clubs and their Officers. The Married Maidens lists women with maiden names and the surnames of families they married into, and if they resided in another city, that city is listed. The year 1924 also saw editions published in March and June.
Early Social Registers
Wikipedia tells us that the original New York Social Register first was published in 1886 by Louis Keller, a German-American of wide social acquaintance, who combined the “visiting lists” of a number of fashionable ladies. It initially consisted largely of the descendants of English or Dutch settlers, the “Knickerbocker” merchant class who had built New York City. I did find listings for New York City for distant sections of my brother-in-lawâ€™s family and they did fit these parameters. By 1892 a social register was published for the booming city of Denver. It was designed to showcase those with money, power, and other desirable attributes that might be of interest to those seeking their business or their appearance at events.
Beyond the U.S.Â
Some Canadians were included in U.S. northern city social registers. Well into the twentieth century (1958), the Social Register of Canada became a reality. It is an overall directory for Canada, not separate volumes for cities. In the United Kingdom â€œWhoâ€™s Whoâ€ and â€œBurkeâ€™s Peerageâ€ acted as a type of social directory along with other listings and biographical directories of prominent individuals and families. Many other directories, registers, and biographical compilations over the centuries have documented such families.
Included and Not Included
Depending upon the year and the city, there may have been exclusion of specific persons. The exclusions may have been for race, religion, ethnic background, area of residence, perceived or real morality issues, or simply because the person was/is in the entertainment industry. It was important to list individuals and families who were accepted socially by the other listed people. Inclusion varies-â€“someone might be there for three years running and then disappear for a year. What editor or publisher was the person out of favor with or was a major social faux pas committed by the excluded person?
Finding These Registers
These directories were not published for every city and for some places they were not published every year. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has some of these directories in microform. One is a 1913 register described as â€œSocial register: contains the summer addresses where they differ from the winter addresses of the residents of New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago.â€ The FHL has others, including a â€œ1929 Alabama Blue Book and Social Register.â€
The Library of Michigan has several such directories in microform, including the 1881 (and subsequent years) â€œDetroit Blue Book: The Elite Private Address and Carriage Directory, Ladies Visiting and Shopping Guide.â€
The Library of Congress has a 1903 social register for St. Joseph, Missouri. Other major libraries such as the Allen County Library in Fort Wayne have a variety of these social directories. I have seen some in used bookstores and on eBay.
Current Social Registers
Today, â€œThe Social Register,â€ is published annually as a single national directory, published in winter and summer editions by â€œForbesâ€ magazine. Those wishing to be included must be sponsored by at least five individuals already listed in its pages. These individuals are then subject to review by an Advisory Committee. This committee also sends out some direct invitations accompanied by a form to be completed.
In addition to winter and summer addresses (“Dilatory Domiciles”), the register lists educational backgrounds, maiden names, and club affiliations of those listed. The younger generation can be listed with their parents beginning at birth (a change from previous age restrictions). A few cities such as Los Angeles and Denver have continued to issue separate, non-national registers.
Should You Check for Such a Directory?
What have you got to lose? If a family member is listed you have a lot to gain such as marital status, club affiliations, alternate residences, date of death, and maybe a short bio on the person. Maybe you are listed in one of these registers. Does your listing provide assistance to a future genealogist?
A Few Websites to Check
- New York Social Blue Book 1930
As with other cities, some people have two residences listed.
- San Francisco Blue Book and Club Directory 1924
- 1925 St. Louis Social Register (information dated November 1924)
Available at Ancestry
- Colored Peopleâ€™s Blue-book and Business Directory of Chicago. This includes concert companies, social clubs, womenâ€™s clubs, and political clubs
- The 1914 Social Register of St. Louis
- January 1888 Social Directory for the Cleveland Area with Parents and Children Listed
About the Author
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, of St. Paul, Minnesota is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer. She has lectured all across the U.S. and coordinates the Intermediate Course, American Records & Research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is a contributor to several periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. Comments will reach her at <PSWResearch@comcast.net> Paula is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of e-mails received. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings. She will not use your name but may use your place of residence (e.g., Davenport, IA).
(Paula enjoys meeting fellow genealogists at these events so please introduce yourself as an Ancestry Weekly Journal and 24/7 Family History Circle reader.)
— 7 October 2006, St. Paul, Minnesota
Tracing Your Family History: Footsteps Online and Off
Minnesota Historical Society
— 14 October 2006, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Fall Seminar
— 27-28 October 2006, Washington, D.C.
Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Conference on Early American Records
— 8-12 January 2007, Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, Utah Genealogical Association
Coordinator and Instructor American Records and Research Course
Instructor Midwestern U.S. Research and Operating a Successful Business
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