City directories are published annually by commercial publishers
who sell the directories and sell advertising in the directories.
The publishers compile statistical information about a city and
its residents and present it along with a directory of business.
For example, The Providence Directory and Rhode Island State
Business Directory for the year commencing May 1, 1929 states
on its title page that it contains the following:
Alphabetical Section (Page 437) Gives names, occupations
and addresses of all men twenty years old or over, women who carry
on businesses, widows, and all business houses. Dates of deaths
during the previous year are given, and where possible, the addresses
of people who have moved to other cities. The names of partners
in firms are given in this department, with much other information
that cannot be found elsewhere.
Business Directory (Page 1403) All business houses, individuals
in business for themselves, and professional men are listed without
charge under the heading that best describes them. The more progressive
houses, realizing that it pays to be easily found, pay a nominal
charge for special listings in heavy type, under every heading where
a buyer might look for them, cross-referenced to a descriptive space
in the reference section.
Advertising Department (Page 101) Where more information
than is possible to give under the headings is placed on file for
buyers and sellers reference the value of this department
cannot be estimated. It is an index of the best business interests
of the city, and stands for them and the city in reference libraries
all over the country, as well as on the desks of progressive business
men. It is accessible to everybody, and the logical place to look
for specific information. This probably explains why no other form
of publicity is so generally endorsed by business men, as a glance
at this department will show.
Map (Opposite) The clearest map ever made of the city, on
a scale large enough to see and small enough to be handled easily.
Street Directory (Page 65) A complete list of Streets, giving
numbers at intersections, and enabling one to tell at once between
what streets a given number lies, and the quickest way to get there.
An alphabetical list of Halls, Blocks and Buildings from which street
and number may be found for addresses which only give name of a
Miscellaneous Information (Page 13) Organization of City
Departments, giving officersCemeteriesPost Office branchesParcel
post zones and ratesChurches and ministersSocieties,
Institutions, etc, with officersState officers and departmentsU.
S. officers and departmentsCourtsPopulation tablesCalendar,
The chief customers for the city directories are businesses, which
use the City Directory to trace customers and identify potential
customers. Directories more recent than the 1929 directory cited
above include a Telephone Key section, matching phone numbers with
names. As the 1999 Providence City Directory explains:
You receive a message from Laura with the telephone number 225-2000.
Who is Laura? To find out who Laura is, or what company she represents,
look to the TELEPHONE KEY. Its a numerical listing of all
the phone numbers in your area. Now you know Laura is from "Lauras
Boutique," one of your best customers.
The same directory suggests this use for its Street Guide:
You know that a satisfied customer is one of your best sources
for business referrals, and is likely to tell their neighbors about
positive business experiences they have had. How can you quickly
find the neighbors of your longtime customers Norman & Maxine
Leonard? Look up the Leonards address in the STREET GUIDE.
By doing so you will also find the names and addresses of their
neighbors. The streets are listed alphabetically, so its easy
to find the addresses you are looking for. You will also find the
cross streets, so you will be able to locate and visit these prospective
new customers in person. The STREET GUIDE is also useful for any
type of fund-raising or canvassing, and for planning delivery routes.
Historians find city directories valuable sources of detail about
life in a particular place at a particular time. Residents and businesses
are listed by their street addresses for a given year. Public agencies,
schools, churches, organizations etc. also appear in the city directory.
Thus, it is possible to trace the establishment of a business or
to know when a family moved into a dwelling or to discover that
an individual was a public official or an officer of a particular
organization in a certain year.
In this country, city directories have been published regularly
since the nineteenth century. Public libraries and historical societies
usually have copies of the current and past city directories, so
that is the first place to start for a research effort.
In seeking to learn more about the Tirocchi and Cella families,
the curators and scholars working on this project looked at city
directories to verify when various family members lived at which
locations. Among other things, they also tracked family businesses
and real estate investments as they appeared in the directories,
and were able to confirm Dr. Cellas involvement in civic activities.
They were also able to trace the shops location and to study
the history and change in the number of dressmakers in Providence
over time. The study confirmed that as dressmakers declined, retail
increased. During the same period, in the first decades of the twentieth
century, mens tailor shops remained about the same because
mens ready-to-wear had been introduced earlier.
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