City directories, including Michigan’s can help family history researchers find success in tracking down these “lost relatives.” Since many of them are published annually, city directories can give historical perspective on a family’s residence within a particular community. They can also identify when and where they moved into a city, list a spouse’s name, a resident’s occupation and/or place of work, and even narrow the possible date ranges of an ancestor’s death. City directories can also serve as an effective substitute for the 1890 U.S. Census. In addition, they have perhaps their greatest value with more contemporary ancestors, especially those who lived after the 1930 census. However, city directories generally contain entries only for those ancestors who lived in the urban areas of the United States, as directories usually do not exist for rural areas and some smaller communities.
One of the popular companies that publish city directories in Michigan are the R. L. Polk & Company. Dating back to the 1870’s, the Polk directories are a standard alphabetical listing of the city’s residents, and also include a section both by street address and a business directory.
Michigan City Directories
The Library of Michigan maintains a large collection of Michigan city directories, dating back to the early to the mid-1800’s. Many of the Michigan directories, especially Detroit, are also available on microfilm, as part of the United States City Directories collection.
Although some of these cities may have earlier published directories, here is an overview of the Library’s holdings in hard copy for several of notable Michigan cities: Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Bay City, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Escanaba, Flint, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Manistee, Marquette, Monroe, Muskegon, Niles, Pontiac, Port Huron, Saginaw, Sault St. Marie.
Similar to city directories, business gazetteers are valuable resources for those researchers with ancestors who were business owners and can also be used to research the business or company itself. This includes identifying the approximate years of operation, the location, what products or services were manufactured, and the names of the CEO and other executive officers.
With an emphasis on Michigan, the Library does have a number of other states, too; many state business gazetteers are also available at Heritage Quest Online.