There is more information in the old Rochester City directories than most people imagine. They were issued randomly at first beginning with the one in 1827. Then by the 1840s they were issued every two years. Beginning in 1866 they were issued every year. They were done by canvassers just like the census. But unlike the census they were only looking for working folks.
The first page of the name listing section gives some of the abbreviations used. Ones that you see a lot are “b.” or “bds” for boards and “h.” for home. The “h.” is used for the head of household and not just those that own a home. Often you will see other members of the family listed as “b.” or boarders. They kept track of anyone that worked outside of the home so if an older child was working somewheres they would be listed as a boarder in their parent’s home. Then a few years later you can see that child move into their own home. That is just one of the reasons that I suggest that each researcher should look in every directory that is available.
The name of a wife is not listed until the 1916 directories, except in the rare occasion that they worked out of the home or had a business such as a dressmaking shop in their home. Women are listed after the husband dies as widows and in many cases it will say something similar to “Halstead, Mary, widow of Jeremiah.” That is a great help in finding the husband’s name if you are working backwards.
The directories sometimes will list the address and name of an employer and you can watch a person move up the ladder or from job to job via the directores. In case of one ancestor, he went from a blacksmith to a night watchman as he got close to his retirement.
The directories also list removals from the city. Don’t be surprised if someone that you think always lived in Rochester is listed as “removed to Chicago” or somewhere else. You find people moving away for a few years and then coming back to Rochester to near the rest of the family.
The old directories also began listing some deaths beginning in 1876. A few of these deaths are not even listed in the newspapers. There was a person that extracted the deaths from 1876 to 1926 from the directories and put them on 3X5 cards. That card file is only in the Local History Department of the Rochester Public Library.
Another aid is to use the directory to find a person in those census records that have not been indexed as of yet. The directory will give you the person’s street name. You can then look in the street listing part of directory and it will tell you what Ward the street is in and the cross streets. That helps to cut down the search time in going through the census.
Starting in 1922 the directories also include a house directory that lists the main occupants of a house by street address. So use the address from the name listing and see who else was living at the address. Sometimes you can widowed sisters, brother-in-laws, etc. living in the same house. There are some separate house directories for the years 1892 – 1920 that are on the RPL website. The best way to find those is to search their catalog for “Rochester house directory” and they come up at the top of the list. So again, I say check all the directories you can.
You can find some interesting facts on people. Check out the on-line Rochester directories even if you have seen them before.