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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Genealogy Gems in the Charleston City Directory

Are you struggling with finding basic details about your ancestor? Maybe it is time you stepped away for a moment and tried searching in a less obvious place for your ancestor who lived in Charleston. One of the most overlooked genealogical resources is the Charleston City Directory. 

Charleston city directories from as early as 1782 still survive and are within your reach, and you can use them to learn more about your ancestor where traditional records come up short. Here is an example of how you can use Charleston city directories to substitute limitations in other genealogy records. 

Most people know about the loss of the 1890 Census. That leaves a 20 year gap between the 1880 Census and the 1900 Census, but if your ancestor happened to live in Charleston, you can use the 1890 Charleston City Directory to glean more information about your ancestor.

Take a look at the following entries from page 200 of the 1890 Charleston City Directory published by the Southern Directory and Publishing Company:
Adams Eliza F Mrs, r Alms House
Adams Frank W c, carp, r 27 Coming
Adams Howard, salesman, Wohlers & Leseman, bds 46 Church
Adams Howard c, lab r rear, 63 Smith
Adams Jane, wid Thomas, r 165 Spring
Adams John, capt tug boat, r 46 Church
Adams John c boatman, res King 4 North of Poinsett
Adams Margaret E, wid, W H, r 15 Charlotte
Adams Mary, wid John, r 44 Queen
Adams Matthias c, lab, r Beaufort ct
This is a good illustration of what you can learn from the Charleston City Directory. Notice that Jane, Margaret and Mary Adams are widows, and their husbands were Thomas, W. H. and John respectively. You could search previous the city directory for years to see if these husbands show up as the head of household. That would narrow down the year they died.
Each entry with a "r" means the occupant was renting. John Adams, the boatman, on King does not appear to be renting. You could check land records to see if he owned that residence. The "c" behind the entries for some means colored. Many early city directories used this way of showing people of color. Some city directories in other locations inserted the people of color together on pages which were a different color that the rest of the directory. 
Notice occupations are also included.

Next, take a look at entries from page 244 of the city directory for the following year (1891 Charleston City Directory). Notice some 1890 Charleston residents are not listed in 1891. Eliza Adams and Matthis Adams live on different streets than where they lived in 1890. This edition of the city directory has more information than just Margaret's husband's first initial (Wm). Howard and John Adams are still living at 46 Church. Perhaps they are related.
Adams Eliza F. Mrs, wid Henry N, 63 Columbus
Adams Frank c, carpenter, r 271 Coming
Adams Howard, salesman, Wohlers & Leseman, bds 46 Church
Adams Jane, wid Thomas, r 165 Spring
Adams John, capt tug boat, r 46 Church
Adams Margaret E, wid, Wm H, r 15 Charlotte
Adams Mary, wid John, r 42 Queen
Adams Matthias c, lab, r 35 Drake
To see which Charleston City Directories are available online read: Charleston County, South Carolina Directories.


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