Thursday, January 25, 2018

Tip-Searching City Directories

While I was researching (See post Harriett Browning Deleon Coolbaugh) the life of my maternal 2nd great grandmother Hattie Coolbaugh I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find her in City Directories after her husband Portis died in 1910 in upstate New York …but I did! I searched in City Directories on Ancestry, as I usually do, by her name and found her listed in only 2 different years. I wondered why I could only find her listed for those 2 years and not other years? So, I thought about searching in a different, more round-about way and found her in additional years and was even able to determine who she was living with in each year.

1. I try to remember to look in U.S. City Directories when I am researching ancestors in the 1900s. I found Hattie with no problem on Ancestry.

In the Elmira, New York, City Directory for 1914:
Coolbaugh Hattie H. wid (widow) Portis, bds (boards) 101 1/2 Front

I wondered who was she boarding with? Was she living with family or did she just rent a room? When I looked further, on the same page even, I saw another Coolbaugh at the same address and realized that was her son Charles.

Coolbaugh Charles D, teamster, h (home) 101 1/2 Front
                               *So, I knew she was living with her son in 1914.

2. I searched again and was able to find Hattie easily in a 1930 City Directory.

In the Ithaca, New York, City Directory, for 1930:
Coolbaugh Hattie, wid (widow) Portis, r (rooms) 502 N Plain

I wondered if she was once again living with family? I was unable to see any other Coolbaughs listed. Dead end? Maybe not…

3. I decided not to search by a name but by putting in the name of the City and the address under Key Words:

                                I found a listing of people at that address or a similar address but no names were familiar.

4. I decided to go back and look at who Hattie’s children were. I knew there were no Coolbaughs on the page. What about her daughters? What were their married names? I started with Amanda and I saw she married Ira Cooper. As I looked down the list when I searched 502 N Plain….there was Ira Cooper and wife Amanda! Wait…but this was in the 1927 City Directory for Hattie Coolbaugh and that hadn’t come up when I searched for Hattie by her name. Interesting!

In the Ithaca, New York, City Directory, for 1927:

                                                                     And there is was!
* Hattie was living with Amanda and Ira. Now who are Lee and Miles, living at the same address? Are those Amanda and Ira’s sons? That will need more researching.

5. Now what if I go back to the 1930 City Directory for Hattie that previously came up and try this again to see who she was ‘rooming’ with?

*Success! Hattie is still living with Amanda and Ira.

6. Using the same technique I was able to find Hattie living with Amanda and Ira in 1925 and 1926.

So now I know:
  • in 1910 Hattie and Portis were living in Genoa Town with their daughter Nettie and family.
  • in 1914 she lived in Elmira with her son Charles
  • from 1925 until her death in 1930 she lived with her daughter Amanda and family in Ithaca
There are still gaps I need to fill in. Missing years to account for but I was able to find out 5 more years of where Hattie lived by using this technique of searching by the address to see who else lived at the address. City Directories have a lot of information for us. Be sure to try this the next time you want to know who someone ‘boarded’ with.

If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,


  1. Whoa! I look at city directories all the time and I have never searched with the address. Brilliant!! Thank you for the wonderful tip. I will need to revisit quite a few directories now. Great work Debby.

    1. Thanks Diane. Couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.

  2. Fantastic detective work!! I need to use this to go over my "Ithaca" people. BTW, I studied and enlarged and pored through the 1900 Census where young "Hettie" is with "Orillo" and found at least one other name using the same writing of a "W" (William) and realized that the enumerator was a bit "wild" with writing out Coolbaugh "William" . Now to fix my tree (again).

    1. Thanks Wendy! Thanks for your help too. I do enjoy our working together.