The Worcester Historical Museum (WHM) preserves a large collection of Worcester city directories. City directories are an important historical resource because they will contain an alphabetical list of citizens, listing the names of the heads of households, their addresses, and occupational information, the locations of businesses, and information about the city’s government and organizations. Sometimes a wife’s name will be listed in parentheses or italics following the husband’s. Other helpful information might include death dates for individuals who had been listed in the previous year’s directory, names of partners in firms, and forwarding addresses or post offices for people who had moved to another town.
All Worcester City Directories and Street Directories can be accessed by visiting the Worcester Historical Museum Library.
A few city directories were digitized and are available through the links below. They can be downloaded and they are searchable. Should you have any problem with them, let us know! To access other years, stop in, call or email the Librarian. firstname.lastname@example.org
Why use city directories?
City directories are useful for placing people in a particular place at a particular time. They typically tell you where an ancestor lived and worked and can help you locate ancestors in census years. They can also lead you to nearby churches, cemeteries, and municipalities, where you can look for more records created while your ancestor lived in this location.
What is in a city directory?
There are usually several parts to a city directory. The section of most interest, of course, is the alphabetical listing of names, where you may find your ancestor.
In addition to the alphabetical portion, a city directory may also contain a business directory, street directory, government directory, and listings of town officers, schools, societies, churches, post offices, and other miscellaneous matters of general and local interest. These sections can help you become more familiar with the city or county your ancestor lived in. If your ancestor owned a business, be sure to check the business section for advertisements.
Whenever you use a directory, it is important to refer to the page showing abbreviations used in the book. Some abbreviations are quite common, such as h for home or r for residence. There may even be a subtle distinction between r for residents who are related to the homeowner and b for boarders who are not related. Becoming familiar with these abbreviations will help you better interpret your ancestor’s listing.
Some city directories list adult children who lived with their parents but who were working or going to school. Look for people with the same surname residing at the same address. If analyzed and interpreted properly, these annual directories can tell you (by implication) which children belong to which household, when they married and started families of their own, and when they established themselves in business.
Once you find your ancestors in a city directory, use what you learn to find them in other sources, such as censuses, death and probate records, church records, naturalization records, and land records.
Worcester Historical Museum (WHM), 30 Elm Street Worcester, MA 01609, 508-753-8278, www.worcesterhistory.org