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round of Family Tree University courses began yesterday, but there’s still time
to sign up for this session! Of particular interest is Exploring
City Directories: How to Trace Your Family in Yesterday’s Yellow Pages. Course
instructor Patricia Van Skaik is the genealogy department director of the Public
Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, so she really knows her stuff. Read
this excerpt of a case study from the class to see for yourself:
The 1846 Cincinnati city directory reveals that photographer Charles Fontayne
operated a business in Cincinnati in 1845. In fact, in the 1840s and early 1850s he
did not live in Cincinnati, but instead one mile across the river in Newport, Kentucky.
However, he did not appear in any US federal census schedules until 1860.
William S. Porter’s family knew he moved to Cincinnati by 1850, but knew little about
him before then, including his reason for migrating to Cincinnati. The 1849 directory
reveals his arrival about a year after Fontayne’s and shows Porter becoming Fontayne’s
business partner. The photographic method of the time, the daguerreotype, was extraordinarily
expensive and could only be supported by a large and prosperous city.
Cincinnati was the sixth largest city in the United States, just behind Baltimore,
and very cosmopolitan as revealed through the wide range of products, including luxury
goods, advertised in the directories. Photographers were an elite group with only
eight listed in the 1850 Cincinnati directory.
Applying the cluster strategy to the business associates led to looking for connections
between Fontayne and Porter before their partnership in Cincinnati. Baltimore city
directories from the early 1840s show Fontayne and Porter as business partners there.
We can conclude that Porter followed Fontayne to continue the business, a successful
endeavor as demonstrated by their ornate advertisement.
The Fontayne and Porter case study illustrates several of key concepts of delving
deeper into city directories:
- Use the cluster strategy with co-workers. Business associates may have worked together
elsewhere prior to their arrival in their current city.
- Chain migration — one individual traveling ahead to be joined later by another –
can apply to occupational groups.
- Business location is important and strategically chosen.
- Business owners may have lived in a different city or state.
- Read between the years and compare information about the industry and your ancestor.
- Look to advertisements for further information about the ancestor or company, including
its target audience and prosperity.
- Identification in a city directory points to new leads for genealogical sources.