Oh, yes! I love city directories. Names, street addresses, occupations. Sometimes they tell the wife's name - and always the wife's name if she is a widow. Later ones include the names of other family members if they are above a certain age. There are the names of churches and their pastors along with the churches' addresses. Organizations in the community are named, along with times and locations of meetings
Of course not every directory is the same, or includes the same information, though I believe every directory includes the names of residents and their addresses - of course, because it's their primary purpose. Other information seems to vary from year to year and by publisher.
Palmer's Steubenville Directory, for 1871, for instance, tells U.S. government information including the names of the president, the cabinet, the supreme court justices, ambassadors to and from the U.S. - and their salaries. I learned the postal rates (3 cents per 1/2 ounce); the population of 50 U.S. cities in 1860 and 1870; pension statistics; and public and private buildings erected in the city including the builder, owner, location, building material, purpose of the building, and the cost. There are several pages devoted to the U.S. debt including sections on bonds and interest rates.
There is a wonderful brief section called "Statistics of Life."
STATISTICS OF LIFE.--The yearly mortality of the globe is 33,333,333 persons. This is at the rate of 91,554 per day, 3,730 per hour, 62 per minute. Each pulsation of the heart marks the decease of some human creature.
The average of human life is 33 years.
One-fourth of the population die at or before the age of seven years.
Among 10,000 persons, one arrives at the age of 100 years, one in 500 attains the age of 90, and one in 100 lives to the age of 60.
Married men live longer than single men.
In 1,000 persons, 95 marry, and more marriages occur in June and December than any other months in the year.
One-eighth of the whole population is military.
Professions exercise a great influence on longevity.
My great-grandfather was 33 when that was written. I imagine he felt pleased to have already outlived the average human lifespan. He lived to be 87.
One page is devoted to the history of Steubenville. To me it reads like a cross between a travel brochure, a textbook, and an encouraging invitation for people to become residents. I enjoyed this quote: "Nature has done all the most ambitious could require to constitute a great manufacturing centre. Enterprise and capital alone are wanted. The first must be sought for in the sound judgment and energy of the inhabitants; the last must be wrought out by the industrious conversion of the raw materials, so abundantly provided, into articles adapted to supply the wants and the luxuries, and to gratify the tastes of a great and prosperous people."
Other pages include information about the industry of the community, and advertisements tell me what businesses there were in the city. I was surprised to see a veterinary surgeon listed in 1871. I was not surprised to see plasterers, house & sign painters, paper hangers, gunsmiths, and coopers, among others. I wondered if my grandfather worked as a wagon maker in one of the shops or as a carpenter in another business or industry.
I enjoyed looking at the full-page ads with their ornate lettering and 140-year-old language that sounds so unusal to my ears in 2010. Perhaps you will, too.
If your ancestor lived in a town or city and if you're trying to fill in information between census records, city directories may be helpful to you. They really are fun to peruse and if you find your ancestor, not only can you fill in a location for him on his timeline, you can also learn more about the situation in which he lived. I know the information in directories is not primary source material, but it can help put a little meat on the bare bones of names and dates. I know that the Family History Library has microfilmed many which are available for loan at family history centers throughout the world. Maybe you'll be as amazed by what you find as I sometimes am!
Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Messier.