Saturday, September 3, 2016

Source Saturday: Directories, Part 1

While doing your family or historical research, keep in mind that directories come in a variety of topics and offer a variety of information. The dictionary defines a directory as
a book listing alphabetically or thematically a particular group of individuals...or organizations with various details [Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide, 1999 ed.]
Using that definition of directory, this post will discuss the variety of directories and what you can expect to find in each. I will be using examples from directories held by the Kellenberger Room.

City Directories

Cover of Charles Emerson's
New Bern City Directory
Courtesy of Wilson Special Collections
Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
City directories are probably the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions a directory. These are lists of people and businesses within a specific geographical area, usually a town. The earliest City Directory for New Bern is from 1880-1881 and titled, Chas. Emerson & Co.'s Newbern, N.C., City Directory.

DigitalNC has a list of the earlier City Directories for New Bern (1880s-1961). There is also one early Craven County Directory from 1913 on DigitalNC (use the same link as the City Directories). The Kellenberger Room also has additional City Directories for New Bern that have not been digitized (1962-present).

Business Directories

Business directories were an early form of advertising. If you needed a product, you would check a business directory to see who sold that product. In North Carolina, one of the leading business directories publishers was Levi Branson. Branson's North Carolina Business Directory was published from 1867-1896. These directories are broken down by county, and give some basic demographic information about each county (population, county seat) as well as county and city officials. As the directories progressed, Branson included more and more information, eventually including the names of prominent farmers in the counties, names of teachers, and names of preachers. Online copies of some of the directories are available at DigitalNC: 1867-68, 1869, 1872, 1890, and 1896.

R. A. Shotwell, the same year that Branson began publishing, published the New Bern Mercantile and Manufacturers' Business Directory and N.C. Farmers' Reference Book. Besides containing business advertisements, the directory also contained a brief history of New Bern, and a map of the town. The Google Book version of the directory (the link above) is missing the map.

The North Carolina Year Book and Business Directory was published by the News and Observer for a number of years around the turn of the twentieth century. This directory listed government officials at the state and local level. Counties are arranged alphabetically and towns within the county. Contact information for the larger Societies and Organizations is also given. Within the County listing, the directory included county officials, justices of the peace, school teachers, ministers, town officials, and leading businesses.

These two types of directories are just the beginnings of various directories. Future Source Saturday posts will include some of the other directories including: Telephone Directories, Religious Directories, Alumni Directories and others.