The 1909 edition of the Atlanta (not that it matters what city) records that my relative died on December 13, 1907.

This gets me wondering how early in 1908 they started working on the 1909 Directory, and if I should mark "Residence" and "Occupation" Events as happening in the year prior to the issue date of the Directory.

For example, if the 1928 Duluth, Minnesota says that Jane Doe lives at 123 Main St, should I record that as happening in 1927? (That would, in fact, clear up a discrepancy in my grandparents' timeline.)


2 Answers 2


Certainly the date for the events should correspond to the effective date of the information in the Directory, and this is probably some time before the nominal date in the title of the Directory in question. Finding such an effective date is another matter! Options include:

  • If you're really lucky, the Directory might actually contain a phrase along the lines of "Information effective on..." or "Information updated to ..."
  • The date of the foreword / introduction in the Directory - this is almost certainly somewhat later than the effective date but it might give a feel for how early the Directory went to press before the nominal year.
  • In lieu of a foreword date, a printing date might be found.
  • Somewhere there might be adverts to say when information for the next edition had to be received by.

Nothing is guaranteed and I have been known to estimate such dates for one directory from information found elsewhere for entirely different directories! (Naturally, I record those as estimated dates)

I have a distinct feeling that I have found events that, even using all these ideas, didn't make sense, making me suspect that either someone paid for multiple entries or the information was gathered a long time in advance of the foreword date.


Don't just look at the alphabetical listings -- examine the entire directory for clues.

The best internal evidence I have for the lead time so far is in some of the Price and Lee directories from New England which have lists of deaths and marriages from the previous year. Those run from December to December. E.g. 1890 Holyoke Mass has Deaths from Dec 1, 1888 to Dec 1, 1889.

Another thing to consider is whether any given directory is consistent with itself. I have a couple of cases where people have 'disappeared' from the alphabetical listings, but their entries in the Street Index (the numerical section) linger. Had they moved, and the street listings not caught up with the alphabetical listings, or did they not pay for a listing in the alphabetical section? It's difficult to know for sure, and like any source, we are left with the task of analyzing the information in the directory.

Check the front matter of the directories to see if the directory has any information about how the information was collected. Do research to determine whether the locality in question had a standard "Moving Day" where new leases started. The directory publishers would have needed to start canvassing residents after moving day (otherwise the information in the directory would have been too stale) but they couldn't take too long about it, or the businesses relying on the directories would complain, as we can see from this snippet taken from the trade publication Directory Bulletin, Volumes 1-5. The screenshot below is from a section "Notes From the Field":

image from Directory Bulletin

Considerable dissatisfaction has been expressed with the length of time taken to issue the directory heretofore. Moving day in Birmingham [Alabama] is September first; and the people want their directory delivered within four months from that date.

Other entries in "Notes from the Field" list the expected pub dates for directories in various states.

Historical newspapers might also run articles or notices advertising the release date of the directory, or have news if a particular year's issue was delayed.

I am indebted to Dan Earl and Mirriam Robbins for their helpful comments on my question posted in the Historical City Directories Facebook group. The link to the Directory Bulletin is courtesy Mirriam Robbins, webmaster of the Online Historical Directories Website and Admin of the Facebook Group Historical City Directories.

  • I looked in the 1940 Atlanta city directory, but found nothing like that. Only a blurb on the publisher's page saying that it was the result of a comprehensive canvas.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 22, 2020 at 22:15
  • @RonJohn Try reading area newspapers to see if you can get clues about the publication date from ads or articles. theancestorhunt.com/blog/…
    – Jan Murphy
    Aug 23, 2020 at 17:58

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