Monday, August 31, 2009

Get off the net

So far almost every post I have made on this blog has talked about Internet. To be clear my view is that to do good research you should never limit yourself to looking on the Internet. Google does not have all the answers, and neither does the deep web. Of course the phone is probably one of the most important tool out there, but this post is about old book you find in the library: City Directories.

City Directories are books that list who lives in a city. The older versions list people by name and address, later they added phone numbers. In recent decades they have morphed into phone books, which only list people by last name. If you want someones current phone number, or to find who lives at an address of phone number today you can use a 411 site. But I have never found an online service that lets you look at what someones address and phone number was in your year of choice. To do that you have to visit the library.

City Directories are usually found in the genealogy collection. They won't be at every branch, but somewhere in your region should have them. Every year the library will get a copy of the phonebook, and they often have volumes of the city directories going back to the 1800's. These books are heavy and grabbing a decade worth of books off the shelf and bringing them to a desk might take several trips.

By going through the books you can find out not just where
someone lived but what years they moved in and out of an address. All you have to do is check the years on either side, until you find the year when their address is not listed.

Of course this technique has some limits, people change their name, only one person in a house has there name in the books, and nowadays cell phones and even many landlines do not get listed in the phone book. But I have used this technique a handful of times and found it real useful. Some times it was for historic research, but on other occasions it was for research about someones address in the last couple years.

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