In recent weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time online doing what I call “directory studies”–systematically tracing individuals across multiple city directory years to learn more about residence, occupation, and/or household configuration.
As I worked, I thought about the quickest ways to zero in on relevant pages and the best ways to save the information found.
I’ve settled on a system that feels like it’s working well for me and I thought I’d share. I’m sure it could be tweaked, but at the moment it feels comfortably efficient and effective.
I added the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 database to “My Quick Links” on my Ancestry home page so that I can find it easily. If you’re not sure how to do that, check out their 5-minute video tutorial.
When a search doesn’t take me to the page I want, I have to browse.
- I type image numbers in order to quickly find the correct letter of the alphabet. Using 111, 333, 555 is quicker than typing 100, 300, 500. It’s a small thing, but the time and effort saved adds up.
- Once I’m close, I use the filmstrip feature to zero in on the correct page.
- If I’m browsing multiple years, I use the linked year at the top of the page to change directories rather than drilling down from the database’s main page.
My quick approach to saving information is this:
- Open a new word processing document in landscape orientation and save it to my research folder.
- Add a 3-column table.
- For each directory checked, type the directory year in the first column. This allows the table to be sorted chronologically if the entries are made out of order. I will often search five- or ten-year marks and then go back and fill in, based on what I see (or don’t see).
- When information is located, center the relevant entries under the directory title at the top of the page and use the shift-control-command-4 option on my Mac to capture them. (Not sure what to use on Windows, but it will probably Google.)
- Paste the screenshot into the middle column.
- Copy and paste the URL.
The resulting document looks like this:
I don’t save the directory pages to my computer or add bibliographic information to the table at this point. I realize that many might argue that this is unwise, but for my purposes–to gain a quick overview of how an individual or family moved through residences and/or occupations and/or family configuration over a period of years to look for information or patterns that might be relevant to a project–it works. If I discover that I want to use the directory information that I’ve skimmed as a formal part of a project, I can quick go back to the relevant directories to save images and create citations.
Two things I’ve learned from spending time in city directories:
- For browsing, Fold3 is GREAT! In fact, I often prefer it over Ancestry for Chicago directories because it’s quicker to browse and is more ocmplete. (Ancestry, last time I checked, was missing the second half of a number of Chicago directories starting c. 1900. I contacted them about the problem. Not sure if it’s been fixed.)
- Be careful! It can sometimes be confusing, especially at Fold3, trying to decide which hard-copy directory the pages are from.