“Removing” the 1890 Gap – City Directories

One of the big thrills of research is the unexpected information revealed in unexpected places. City directories remain one of my favorite sources, but they are of particular value during the 1890 gap, that time period of frustration for many of us; with the loss of the 1890 Census, researchers are often left with a wide 20-year chasm in their research, during a critical period in American immigration, industrial, and social history.

Treasure troves of fantastic local historical information, including listings of local business, Grand Army of the Republic posts, public buildings, cemeteries, churches, ward boundaries, street guides, schools, advertisements, fraternal societies, and, of course, names, directories can place residents in urban communities, usually on an annual or biennial basis. Many of the directories from across the United States, roughly between 1861 and 1921, can be found online at the subscription database Fold3.

Each named entry typically includes an address, occupation, and in some cases the name of a deceased spouse. In addition to the important information above, directories for certain (not all, unfortunately) cities also include death dates for the recently deceased. Here is an example from p. 1298 of the 1890 directory for Boston, published by Sampson, Murdock, & Co.:

Bernard H. Vandenacker, 1890 Boston city directory

Other cities that have this death date information, and there undoubtedly are others, include Detroit (MI), Grand Rapids (MI), Jackson (MI), Minneapolis (MN), Providence (RI), and Toledo (OH).

Perhaps more revealing than the death information, however, are the “Removed to” entries found in the same directories, which show where residents have relocated to, whether it be a neighboring county or a far-away community across the country. Given the wide timeline gap presented by the loss of the 1890 Census, identifying that an ancestor moved, and where, is of great importance.

Here is a snip for a Miss Julia Bell from p. 77 of the 1890 Jackson, Michigan city directory, published by R. L. Polk.

Miss Julia R. Bell, 1890 Jackson (MI) city directory

For Miss Bell, who perhaps had married by the 1900 Census, this directory offers a vital clue for a researcher tracking down her whereabouts during the 1890 time period. Chicago is a good distance from Jackson, and knowing where to focus the research is critical to success. Using the directories from the cities listed above, perhaps you, too, can find those unexpected clues in familiar resources.

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