I attended some excellent workshops during Houston’s Family History Expo in 2012 that offered great advice and tips on dealing with brick-wall ancestors (great or small) when we hit them in our family research. One session that really helped a lot, or at least helped me find ancestors that tend to go missing between census decades, was — City Directories and How to Really Use Them — presented by Dae Powell at ShoeStringGenealogy.com!
Now I’ve used city directories with my research before I attended Dae’s workshop. But what I took away from his session was — “how often” — I should be using them with my research! So when he recommended doing city directory searches year by year because they’re “excellent fillers between the Federal Census decades,” anyone in this session looking my way would have seen a giant yellow light bulb appear above my head – LOL! This was my “AHA” moment about the real use of these directories with my research! I have not been doing city directory searches year by year for every ancestor. If truth be told, it never occurred to me that these directories were an excellent resource for tracking changes that occurred within families such as –
which family members were still there and which ones were not due to — a move, a marriage, death, etc.”Because information was collected at the time of the event – often by actual house to house canvassing — it carries the same evidential weight as many “original” records.” 
Below are some other quick tips Dae Powell gave during that session that I tweeted out to my genealogy friends on Twitter:
This session with Dae Powell really did change the way I use city directories with my research! As I began using them more, I noticed that they also provided: excellent historical information about the city, a reverse directory (a listing of residents by address if searching for your ancestor’s names doesn’t work), cemetery listings, church & clergy listings and much more!
So where can you find city directories? According to Dae, city directories may be found —
[i]n public libraries in the regions they cover. In university libraries, at the LDS Family History Centers, and even some have been scanned for commercial use online.”
Need to acess Houston’s City Directories online? Surf on over to the Houston Public Library’s digital collection at this link – http://digital.houstonlibrary.org/cdm/search/collection/citydir
To locate city directories for other regions of this country online, check out the links below for assistance and information:
1. Ancestry.com (for paid subscribers) – http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2469
2. Cyndi’s List – http://www.cyndislist.com/directories/general/
3. Fold3.com – http://www.fold3.com/s.php#query=City+Directories
4. FamilySearch.org – http://distantcousin.com/directories/
1. Powell, D. (2009, October 21). Another Look at City Directories. SHOESTRING GENEALOGY: City Directories. Retrieved June 15, 2013, from http://shoestringgenealogy.com/article/City_dir.htm
Another HUGE collection of directories is at Allen County Library in Indiana. I have utilized them year by year, but its only possible when ancestors are in big cities. The rural areas, which many of our ancestors started in, have much less coverage. I get excited when they move to big cities just for that reason alone. And I also have a case where directories helped break a brick wall.
Thanks so much for that tip about the lack of coverage in rural areas. Quite a few of my ancestors were share-croppers in many small Texas towns right after slavery ended. But you’re right, once they moved to the cities looking for better opportunities, tracking them was a whole lot easier! Again thank you!