If you were lucky enough to have had a diligent historian in your family, you may know who (or what) is pictured in old photographs of your ancestors. For many of us, such details have been lost to time. One tool that can help solve such family mysteries is the city directory. City directories are basically big address books that list the residents of a town or a city. They were published annually and are similar to telephone directories but pre-date them – as far back as the 1600s for some cities in Europe! One important distinction of city directories is that they typically listed all working adult residents of a household, as well as details such as occupations, spouse names, and residence or business addresses (phone directories usually only list the person to whom the number was registered). For this reason, city directories can provide important clues to help us confirm the names and relationships of family members, their occupations, and even events such as marriages and deaths.

At one time, city directories were published for nearly every community in the U.S., and continue to be published today. In fact, the library just received the 2022 edition of the Stillwater directory! The library’s city directory collection extends back to 1876, and you may peruse it in our Saint Croix Collection anytime the library is open. Even if you are not from Stillwater, city directories are an essential tool for genealogical and other historical research, and many city directories are now digitized online.

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