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Using city directories

The Legal Genealogist is off to California this morning, en route to tomorrow’s Fall seminar of the San Diego Genealogical Society.

Yesterday was the last day to register online, but you can always check with the society about walk-in space…

So… of course I was poking around online yesterday to see what other neat San Diego area resources were out there and realized there was one I hadn’t mentioned that I use all the time.

It’s where, yesterday, I found that Miss May Chittenden was an operator at the telephone office in San Diego in 1892-93, and lived at 813 Fifth Street. That Nick Vidolin ran the California Fish Market at the foot of H Street, offering pickled, dry and fresh fish. That W. C. Coon, who lived at 754 Sixth Street, was the proprietor of the oddly named Temperance Billiard and Pool Hall on Fourth Street.

And the resource? The city directory of course. In this particular case, the 1892-93 directory for San Diego, California.1 One of the best resources you’ll ever find for tracking people, particularly between the censuses.

May Chittenden’s entry, like those of Vidolin and Coon, was late, so they ended up in the pages for “Changes, Removals, Additions Too Late for Classification.”2 Then it’s on to the alphabetical listings starting with William Abbott Jr., who worked at the Russ planing mill and lived on Boston Avenue,3 through to Miss May Zuck, who lived on H Street, and had the dubious distinction of appearing just before an add for the coroner’s office.4

In between is an amazing assortment of people, places and things in San Diego history. Choosing pages at random in the alphabetical listings just in this one directory, you can find:

• Miss E L Miller and Mrs J R Stockton were the managers of Albertus Art Emporium, at room 3, 1435 E Street.5

• E C Devoort was a stevedore on Spreckels wharf, with a residence at Twenty-fourth and Milton avenue.6

• A B Hughes was a cab driver for Pacific Transfer and Gurney Cab Co., and lived at 1033 Second.[x. Ibid., at 115.]

• W McLaughlin was a bell boy at the Hotel Florence.7

• The Dunbar brothers ran the Pacific Junk Store, located on the corner of Sixth and I.8

• Mrs. E. W. Schmidt listed herself as a magnetic healer, and had an office and residence listed as Metropolitan 1319 East.9

• Miss H E Taylor provided massauge treatments, and lived at 919 Eighth Street.10

• Jose Zamorana was a butcher with Selwyn & Allison, with a residence on California, Middletown.11

And that’s just one directory. For one year. At Ancestry alone, there are directories for almost the entire period from 1892 to 1980.12

Because those directories exist and were published, year and year after year, you can track people as they arrived in San Diego, moved around in the city, changed jobs, and then moved out of town. Just as one example, I didn’t find May Chittenden in the 1893-94 directory at all,

But remember that city directories are more than just a list of people or even people and occupations. In the 1892-93 directory, for example, there are lists of churches, newspapers, railways, schools and colleges right down to the dancing schools, societies and steamship lines.

There’s a street guide that explains the layout of the city — how the streets starting at the bay on the west and running north and south were, at the time, Atlantic, California, Arctic, Columbia, State, Union, Frost, First, Second, Third, etc., to Forty-second. And how the streets starting at the bay on the south and running east and west were named after the letters of the alphabet (Ash, Beech, Cedar, Date, Elm and so on).13

Need an explanation for house numbers? Same place.14

And then there’s the “General Information” section: state officers, U.S. Army roster, federal and state court personnel, state militia, district and county officials, city officers, fire stations and engine houses, foreign consuls, lighthouses, weather bureau and quarantine stations — just to name a few.15

In San Diego — in any city or town in California — in any community anywhere — check out the possibility that there’s a city directory. And remember that even fairly small towns and cities can have directories as well.

They’re worth their weight in gold…


  1. Directory of San Diego City (San Diego: Olmsted Co., 1892); digital images, ( : accessed 7 Sep 2017).
  2. Ibid., “Changes, Removals, Additions Too Late for Classification,” at 25.
  3. Ibid., at 33.
  4. Ibid., at 232.
  5. Ibid., at 34.
  6. Ibid., at 74.
  7. Ibid., at 145.
  8. Ibid., at 161.
  9. Ibid., at 186.
  10. Ibid., at 207.
  11. Ibid., at 232.
  12. “See U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” California > San Diego; digital images, ( : accessed 7 Sep 2017).
  13. Ibid., “General Information,” at 10-11.
  14. Ibid.
  15. “General Information,” ibid., at 12-17.
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