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?
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.
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.
- 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.”
- 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.