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Roadblocks in City Directory Research - Part Two

Posted by Hank Burnham July 7, 2019

ASTM E1527-13 Lists “Local Street Directories” as One of the Standard Historical Sources Used to Conduct a Phase 1 Site Assessment

City directories can be a useful reference when conducting environmental due diligence. However, there are some roadblocks that researchers face during their investigation. I discussed Street Name Changes and Alias Names for the Same Street as an obstacle in my prior post. But there are a number of others that should be recognized. These include street re-numbering, adjoining properties in another town, addresses falling in different municipalities, false positives or errors in the directory findings and no coverage in rural areas or small towns.

Re-numbering of a Street

Street renumbering is another obstacle that a researcher may encounter. Consulting a historical map may show the previous numeric address of a property but another solution could be noting between what numeric address does a cross street appear in the listings.

For instance in 1940, all listings on Main Street range from 1100-3000 and across street Maple Avenue appears between 1200 and 1300. But in 1939, the range is 100-2000 and the cross street Maple Avenue appears between 100 and 200, it could indicate that the area of interest was renumbered between the publication years 1939 and 1940.

Adjoining Properties in Another Town or Municipality

It is not uncommon to discover adjoining properties in a different town.  One business located on FM 407 in Lewisville, Texas is surrounded by properties located in Highland Village, Argyle, Flower Mound and Lewisville, Texas. Additionally, FM 407 is also known as Justin Road so some addresses may be listed under FM 407 while others may be listed under Justin Road. Changes in the incorporated boundary lines may also require looking for the listings under different city or town names. Also, it is not uncommon to have publication coverage end at a geographic boundary that may exclude either the subject address or some adjoining addresses.

 Addresses Falling in Different Municipalities During the Property’s History

When addresses fall in different municipalities or towns during the property’s history  it can become a roadblock to city directory research. Sandy Springs, Georgia is the 6th largest city in the state by population, but was not incorporated until 2006. Does this mean there is no coverage for addresses in Sandy Springs prior to that time? No. Sandy Springs was incorporated from portions of unincorporated Fulton County with addresses predominantly in Atlanta and Roswell.

Coverage for much of the area is found in Atlanta Suburban directories back to the 1950s. John’s Creek, Georgia, the 10th largest city in the state by population was also not incorporated until the 2000s, with much of the area covered in directories for Alpharetta and Duluth.  A search for dates of incorporation or basic history of a city or town should give the researcher the clues they need to determine if addresses may have fallen in different municipalities during the property’s history.

False Positives in City Directories Where Errors Occur in the Listings

City directories are not infallible and false positives show up in occupant listings. For instance, Williams Service Station is located at 121 South Washington Street but another business by the same name is showing at 1505 Jefferson Road in a residential area. In this instance, Jeffrey Williams, the owner of Williams Service Station has a residence at 1505 Jefferson Road and Williams Service Station is incorrectly recorded at the 1505 address in addition to 121 South Washington Street.

Consulting other historical sources and title records may help expose the city directory error and often the error is not repeated in earlier or later publications.

Rural Areas and Smaller Towns in Which No Directories Were Published
(or there is no coverage for the specific address in a published directory)

No coverage for a city or town is another common road block in city directory research. City directories were compiled from thousands of sources and were sold for cities and towns for which there was demand. Therefore, directories were generally not published for small towns. Additionally, areas outside of the incorporated boundaries of the municipality may not have been included in the directory. Using a data provider such as Envirosite, with a comprehensive nationwide archives of historical address listings is an alternative around lack of coverage for both a city and areas of a city that were not included in published books.

Learn more about Envirosite's proprietary City Directory research process.


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