I want to search the entire U.S. from 1750 to 1959 for residences. I have found the Polk city directories in the archives of some libraries in several cities, and it is useful. But I have to travel there. I am searching for addresses all over, from Nova Scotia to California and in between. Are there other city directories, other than telephone directories? Any online directories?
If you want to find historical city directories for the United States, it is ridiculously time-consuming to look for them one at a time by the title of the directory. So how do you find them? By using library catalogs, archival catalogs, and other resources to look for inventories and other works which talk about what city directories were published, otherwise known as finding aids.
One starting place might be the FamilySearch Research Wiki's article United States Directories which gives a brief overview of the topic, and lists both finding aids and links to some of the online sites.
But the best way I know of is to search the catalogs of the library and archives you visit -- not just for the directories themselves, but for research guides and finding aids for their own collections. Once you locate a directory in someone's collection, you can then look in WorldCat.org to see if you can find the directory in a library near you, or search to see who might have the directory online.
Some examples of research guides include:
- Telephone and City Directories in the Library of Congress: Non-Current (Old) By Barbara B. Walsh, Reference Specialist (Research Guide No. 42)
- also from the Library of Congress: U.S. City Directories on Microfilm in the Microform Reading Room
- search results from the Family History Library Catalog for Place: United States and Subjects: Directories lists five entries under Directories -- Inventories, registers, catalogs
Some resources for finding directories online:
- Miriam J. Robbins's website United States Online Historical Directories
- Directories: City, County, Address, etc. » General Resources at Cyndi's List
- City Directories of the United States of America
Blog posts and online articles:
- Two Terrific Free Sites for Online City Directory Research by Kenneth Hunt, posted 20 April 2013 on his blog The Ancestor Hunt
- City Directories for Genealogy by Kimberly Powell, posted at About.com
If you want to search specifically for Polk city directories, some library catalogs will allow you to narrow the search that way. For example, here are the search results for the genealogy collection at the Allen County Public Library, where a search for "city directories" plus filtering by the three selections for Polk directories yielded 451 results.
A simple way to search for more of anything you find in a library is to find the catalog entry for the item you already found, then to search the library subject headings for that item.
Many historical city directories can be located and read online -- and some can be downloaded -- from Google Books, the Hathi Trust, and the Internet Archive.
- R.L. Polk's Directory of Directories at the Internet Archive and at Google Books.
- search results from Google Books showing other Polk Directories
When searching Google, it's helpful to use the techniques demonstrated by Lisa Louise Cooke on how to narrow your search by date range. Add the beginning and end years to your search with two dots in between, and Google will return only the editions in those years.