Posted by Ancestry Team on November 20, 2008 in Collections

Tuesday we released the new U.S. City Directories database on  While we’ve had thousands of city directories on the site for some years now, many of these databases contain no page images, and the ones that do mostly contain bi-tonal black and white images (not grayscale).

This new release adds tremendous value to our U.S. city directories collection in the following ways:

  1. it adds 50 million names in 1,100 city directories from 45 states and Washington, D.C.
  2. these directories are concentrated around the year 1890, which bolsters our 1890 Census Substitute collection
  3. most of these city directories have never been published before online
  4. the images in this collection are high-quality greyscale, much clearer than previous collections:

Newly-released city directory image:

Previously-released city directory image:
Previously-released city directory

Thousands more high-quality and unique city directories will be added to this database over the next several months.  The ultimate goal is to make this the aggregate source for U.S. City Directories.


  1. kknutsen2

    I would like to see pdf files of the individual directories. The directories are too slow to navigate now.

  2. Jade

    Something’s wrong.

    I searched for Elizabeth Rumsey in Pennsylvania, not exact, from your link to the Directory database.

    I picked one supposedly for Bradford and Olean, Pennsylvania, linked to results here:

    There is no Rumsey on this page and no Elizabeth.

    I imagine you have as usual, uselessly indexed by keyword instead of by **name** (surname, firstname), but this is ridiculous.

    What is the problem here?

  3. Chris Lydiksen

    Reply to #2:
    Jade, there actually is a Rumsey on the page you cite, and yes, in fact, the page is indexed as names and keywords. As you did a non-exact search, the algorithm took into account the hits on “Rumsey” and “Pennsylvania” and returned an image in the following directory:

    U.S. City Directories > Pennsylvania > Bradford > 1885-1893 > Bradford and Olean Directory For 1886-7

    Rumsey on right side near the top

    That said, one of our priorities is to improve ranked (non-exact) search algorithms. Thanks for the feedback, CL


    Tried searching directory site for the James mcnickle. it opened at site for the “d’s’. About a half hour later fnally found a john mcnichol. wrong! i don’t see how the directories will be much help. much too time consuming.

  5. Valerie

    These new directories search just like the newspapers. I gave up on the newspapers on this site long ago, much preferring GenealogyBank’s search. I gave these a shot, but using a keyword search just doesn’t give researchers the control they need to do what they want.

    Love that you added images – but if I can’t find what I need, the search function doesn’t do much good. I’m going to end up “flipping” through pages in the end – which is annoying and time consuming.

  6. Chris Lydiksen

    Reply to #5
    Pat, I did an exact search for First Name “James” and Last Name “McNickle,” got 8 search results, 7 of those had a “James McNickle” on the page (the other one had a “James” on a different line as a “McNickle.”

    However, I did try to put the exact phrase “James McNickle” in the keyword field in quotation marks, which is a way to force the search terms to be adjacent to each other, but I got no results. I’ll look into this.

  7. Chris Lydiksen

    Reply to #6
    Valerie, over the last year or so we have actually improved our free-text search capabilities, and continue to work on our search algorithms. We are very well motivated to return accurate results to users.

    For newspapers, city directories, yearbooks and other such databases, names are extracted from the text, so please don’t ignore the name fields for the keyword field. However, putting the exact phrase in quotation marks in the keyword field, forces the search to find terms adjacent to each other.

    If you’d like, I’ll take a look at specific problems you are having with these databases.

  8. Chris Lydiksen

    Reply to #1
    k, please be more specific so that I can pinpoint your navigation problems. This database has search and browse capabilities, along with the in-image-viewer image selector.

  9. Jerry Bryan

    I probably come at the city directory databases a little differently than most people. I almost don’t care if they are indexed or not. After all, if I look at a city directory at a library, the directory is not indexed. Rather, it’s in alphabetic order. I look up names just like I do names in a phone book or words in a dictionary. And that’s all I really need from ancestry on city directories. (Mostly – grin! – not to say I would never like to find an obscure city directory entry for a relative by looking up their name, but mostly I just want to scan the directory.)

    To that end, here’s what I need.

    Good images. I mostly don’t even care if the records are indexed. After all, the names are in alphabetic order. I just need the images. Transcriptions are pretty useless, and indexes are really of little value. When I got to the library to look at a city directory, I don’t have an index nor do I need one.

    An easy way to “turn the page”. I need an easy way to get to the Smiths or to the Jones. Once there, I can just eyeball the list of names.

    An easy way to find out which cities and years you have directories for. For example, I research mostly in Tennessee. Which directories do you have for Tennessee? Here’s how I found out. I did a dummy search for John Smith living in Tennessee and scanned down the list of matches for city directories. I clicked on the first image. The first image was in and of itself of no value. But it was for Chattanooga, and there was bread crumbing at the top of the screen. Namely, there was the following:

    Search > U.S. City Directories > Tennessee > Chattanooga > 1871-1881 > Chattanooga, Tenn General and Business Directory 1876-7

    What I then did was to click on “Tennessee” in the bread crumbs, and I got a list of cities, namely Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville. That’s the expected list, but I was hoping for a few of the smaller cities as well. Finally, I clicked on Knoxville, and I got the following list of years: 1869-1881, 1882-1886, 1887-1890, 1891-1894, and 1895-1901.

    This is a wonderful resource, but indexing city directories and looking for names is not the best way to get at the information. You just need to go directly to state -> city -> year, etc.

    As an alternative, I tried the card catalog. I put in a subject of City Directory and a keyword of Tennessee. I got Baltimore (not in Tennessee!), Memphis but only for 1909, Knoxville but only for 1926, Detroit (not in Tennessee), and Titusville (not in Tennessee). Surely there is a better way to find these things than doing a dummy search for John Smith.

  10. Ronnie

    Thanks so much for adding the U.S. Cities Directories. This database full of useful content. Also, it was a boon to finally get a new U.S. Content database after 3 months of very little.

    I have an issue about 2 Illinois databases that have been mislabeled as World Content. I’ve written to Ancestry via the Help system 3 times to no avail and I’ve spoken by phone with a representative who promised to report it, yet they remain mis-classified and inaccessible to US content subscribers. Could you please check in to these?

    1) History of Illinois to accompany an historical map of the state – posted 10/13/2008

    2) A Complete History of Illinois from 1673 to 1873 … – posted 11/14/2008

    It would be nice to have these databases corrected to fall under the U.S. Content classification.


  11. Shayec55

    I am trying to find the biological father’s name for daughters Suzanne Laura Wolk (born 1966 in NY) & Dianne Rachel Wolk Schiff, born to mother Ruth S Wolk. Can you help me navigate to where I need to go please?

  12. Lisa Marley

    Search of Marlewsky brings back nothing. search of Marle* brings back pages that have ‘Marlewsky’ on them. Does the exact search not work on this database?

  13. Chris Lydiksen

    Response to #13:
    It is possible that the OCR text (behind-the-scenes-text that gets indexed and searched on) had the first five letters correct, but subsequent letters were not captured correctly. This is usually due to image quality issues.

Comments are closed.