What City Directories and Yearbooks Can Reveal to Researchers

The CALS Roberts Library Research Room offers an extensive collection of city directories, primarily covering Little Rock, but other cities in Arkansas as well. City directories can be very useful tools in genealogy research. City directories were first published by the R.L. Polk Company in the 1870s. Since these directories are produced annually, genealogists can track their ancestors year to year as opposed to using census data available only every ten years.

Useful information can be found in city directories, including not only the head of household, but often a spouse, occupation, and even the name of the company where a person was employed. It is also possible to track a resident’s economic status by looking at the area of the city where he or she lived. In addition to being able to search alphabetically by name, city directories include a cross-reference section with street names with the residents listed. This reverse directory can help identify neighbors and track when residents moved.

City directories can also be used to research local businesses by tracking their listings to determine when they started, moved to other locations, or went out of business. Many businesses placed advertisements in these directories, and these can be useful in learning more about the businesses.

City directories can also give insight into the greater community, providing lists of schools, churches, charities, and other social organizations. They contain advertising that give a glimpse into the economic condition of the area. Often listed in the front of the city directory is other useful information about the city, such as a history, statistical information, and photos of local buildings.

Patrons wanting to research their home can use the reverse directories to determine when the house was built and the names of families that lived there through the years.

The Roberts Library’s collection of Little Rock city directories includes hard-copy volumes as well as microfilm copies as far back as 1921 to the current year’s volume. Hardcopy volumes of city directories from other cities in Arkansas are also available. Ancestry.com, available to CALS patrons in the Research Room, offers access to directories from around the nation.

The Research Room also offers yearbooks from the CALS Butler Center and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s collections, including yearbooks from colleges all over Arkansas as well as from public and private elementary and secondary schools around Little Rock. These can also be a good source for genealogists and historians, particularly with regard to photographs. Yearbooks, traditionally called annuals, contain not only photos of individual students and teachers, but also student groups such as sports teams, clubs, etc., providing a look into the interests of the ancestor. Using yearbooks can be a clue to age and might be helpful in finding other relatives such as siblings. High school yearbooks often have quotes from the senior class members, giving insight on an ancestor’s views or personality. Yearbooks are not indexed, but it can be worthwhile to look through them and possibly find information not available elsewhere.

Find out more about how to do research in the Roberts Library Research Room here: https://robertslibrary.org/access-to-collections/

By Alysanne Crymes, CALS Roberts Library Genealogy and Serials Librarian

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