Before there were phone books -- for that matter, before there were phones! -- many communities published Directories. These helpful documents listed many of the homes and businesses in the area, including almost all the area's prominent citizens, and many of the not-so-prominent as well.
Not surprisingly, these historical Directories for cities, towns, counties and parishes (and occasionally, for an entire state) have become valuable tools for genealogists and family history research. They were especially common in the US, and the UK, but can also be found for many localities in Europe and elsewhere around the world.
Best of all, a great many historical directories can be accessed online, and for free. Here's how.
**Check the Historical Directories Pages at FGT**
FreeGenealogyTools.com is a very useful source of free online family history information; check the FGT Historical Directories pages, linked to in the Resources section.
You'll find directories listed not only for the US and UK, but speciality directory sites that cover East Europe, as well as University directories from many areas.
**Use the Online Directory Site**
For historical directories in Canada, the US, Ireland, and the UK, a terrific resource is the Online Historical Directories Website compiled by Miriam Midkiff. It's a very good, and frequently updated resource, and well worth exploring.
Directories are arranged by geography, with a drill-down system to bring you to the local area you're looking for. In other words, you can't simply search by family name, but have to have an idea of where they lived (and when they lived there) in order to identify the most appropriate directory to search through.
A link to Miriam's site can be found in Resources.
**Get To Know Hathi Trust**
A relatively new collection of digitized books on the web can be found at HathiTrust.org. This is a very large collection, with over five million books. There are many, many historical directories that can be found here.
Search for terms like Directory, Gazette, Gazetteer, and Register in the title of books, along with a city, county or other geographical name, in order to identify the directories that are relevant to your own family's history.
**Don't Overlook Ancestry.com**
Unlike other directory sites, Ancestry.com is not a free site. However, they have a very deep collection of historical directories, and it is possible to begin searching these at no charge. You'll get preliminary results at no cost, and can then decide if you want to pay Ancestry's subscription fees to get full access to their materials.
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