Problem Solving with Directories and Sanborn Maps
by guest writer Ed Storey
We often hear that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That surely applies to looking for ancestors as well. Many people stop at the census. City directories can provide significant additional information and, when combined with Sanborn maps, help gain a better understanding of where our ancestors lived. Here, we will go over some examples and methods that can be used to gain the most from these two resources.
Let me not, however, disparage census information. In spite of the fact they were only every ten years, 1890 is missing, and they contain errors; the census is a good place to start. They are widely accessible online and generally well indexed. Here, we will take the next few steps after finding our relatives in the census.
First, some explanation is necessary. City directories were like telephone directories, without telephone numbers. They were published, some before 1800, to help businesses find customers. Many cities had them, privately published annually and occasionally from more than one publisher. They listed the name and address of residents, sometimes with employment information. I believe there was some effort to get names spelled correctly, perhaps more than that of census enumerators. Another advantage is that like names would be listed together. Most directories used abbreviations and listed these in the front. They should be perused before using the directory.
Sanborn maps were drawn to assist the sellers of property insurance. Every building was shown, including some description and labeling of businesses. There would be regular, but generally not annual updates. For almost every address in a directory, the location could be found. For small town or rural people, however, maps and directories would be much less common.
Perhaps the best way toward understanding would be an example. The 1917 directory for Newark shows my grandfather, Edwin N. Storey. His place of business (Modern Engraving) and his home address (245 Lincoln Ave) are both given. He can actually be found every year between the 1910 and 1920 census. 1917 is just an example.
We will start with the business. Directories often contained a list of the businesses in the city. We can find Modern Engraving, where my grandfather is listed as the secretary. His partners are also listed and they might be worth researching to learn more about the business.
Since we know the business was at 156 Avon Avenue, a Sanborn map might show us a little more about the business. Here, however, we come to a snag. Many Sanborn maps can be found online. Princeton, for example, provides access to maps for many NJ cities. Earlier, I indicated maps were not available for every year. Further, not even all of the available maps are available online. It turns out that the last online Princeton map showing Avon Ave. was 1909, before the start of Modern Engraving. Princeton has a later map, but it can be a long drive from Colorado. Still, we can see the location and it is not likely that a completely new building was erected for Modern Engraving.
Next, let’s look for the residence. I should have said that I use a Bing map to find the location on a modern map. This helps me to find the street on a Sanborn map. Sanborn maps, being very detailed, had many pages. They would be in a large book and can be cumbersome to use, even online today. With a little perseverance, however, I found the house. At the time, houses did not have driveways, as autos were just coming into existence.
Similarly, Edwin N. was born in Indianapolis, in 1874. The year was between censuses and there were no birth records. A subsequent census mentioned Indiana as his birthplace and I started with the largest city. Fortunately, I found his father in the 1876 city directory. With a Sanborn map, I could determine the distance to his work place (American Sewing Machine) and his probable route from home to work. I even found the nearest church, which happened to have baptism information.
I wanted to see the house. This required working between the Sanborn and Bing maps, as the houses had been renumbered. I was able to find the cross-street and count down to the house. The Sanborn map showed the shape of the house, so I could ascertain that I really had the right house. I went to the intersection of the two streets, (Woodlawn Avenue and Olive Street) and counted down to the right house. I needed Bing to get there and Sanborn to figure out where it was. The Indianapolis directory got it started. Actually the family had two addresses in Indianapolis. The other one, however, is now a parking lot.
Here is another use for directories. When I looked at the 1890 directory of Lancaster, PA; there were about a dozen people named Danner, mostly family heads. This was new to me and I did not know if they were related, but several lived on Chester or Church St. I located the Sanborn map of about the same time and found these streets. As it turned out, they were within three blocks of each other. In fact, George Danner had a shoe store in his home, on Plum Street, very close to the other Danners.
Here is another example where directories helped solve a problem. Darvin Olga Shaub was six in 1900. She was living, as a step-daughter, in the house of Ellis Hostetter. His wife was Susan K. Hostetter. We could not know anything else about her from the census, but the directories filled in the details. I looked for both Susan Hostetter and Susan Shaub back, year by year. Two years earlier, I found “Susan K. Shaub, wid George”, living at 32 Strawberry. Interestingly, Ellis Hostetter was a boarder at 32 Strawberry!
It was not hard to see that Ellis married a fellow boarder. I even had the name of Darvin’s father to enable further research. Without the directory, I would have been lost.
Sometimes, careful attention to the details in the directory can provide clues about the family. Take the Sink family, for example. The 1908 directory for Newark shows “Sink, Barbara wid Reinhard h 87 Hamburg Pl.” It seems likely that records of when Reinhard was still alive should not be hard to find. However, there are also other entries under Sink. One states “Otto mech bds 87 Hamburg Pl.” another “Adolph steamfitter bds 87 Hamburg Pl.” It is likely these were the grown sons of Reinhard and Barbara, although they might have been nephews who had recently arrived in the US. Similarly, Leopold and William Sink, both painters, resided on Ferry St. They were likely of the same family, perhaps related to Barbara, since the Sanborn map showed the two addresses are quite close.
In summary, there is a lot to be gained from city directories. Whilst they do not list all family members, their frequency, printing and concern for accuracy make them a worthwhile resource. Remember that the entries in the directory were probably updated in the year before publication. When the directory information is combined with Sanborn maps, collectively there is a lot to be gained.