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Directories for the rest of us

The Legal Genealogist had no sooner pushed the “publish” button on last week’s blog post about city directories than the laments began.

“I wish my people had lived in cities,” one wailed.

“Mine were all farmers,” another complained.

As if no directories ever gave information about those rural ancestors of ours.

Not so.

Case in point, that I came across last night as I prepared for this weekend’s fall seminar of the Maryland Genealogical Society.

It’s called The State Gazette and Merchants and Farmers’ Directory for Maryland and District of Columbia, published in Baltimore in 1871.1

The publishers explained: “The original design of the publishers was merely to give the names of those on’y who where engaged in the general merchandise business, and manufacturing, but subsequently it was determined to embody other professions, as well as the names of farmers residing within the limits of the entire State of Maryland and the District of Columbia.”

You are picking up the word farmers here, right?

Now, yes, there is more information set out in the volume if your people happened to live in the cities. You’ll find, for example, a description of the City of Baltimore, with its official population of the time of 350,000 and the facts that it “is beautifully situated on the Patapseo River, twelve miles from its entrance into the Chesapeake Bay, and about two hundred miles from the Sea,” that its streets “generally are uniform and straight, and are paved with cobble stone” and that it was “undoubtedly the greatest market in the United States, if not in the world, for Flour and Tobacco.”2

There were 27 architects in the directory, 12 who sold artificial flowers, one who made artificial eyes.3 Five were glass manufacturers, two made gold pens, and seven listed themselves as grinders and polishers, one of those limiting it to edge-tool and brackets.4

But once you get out of the cities, you find information any of us with rural ancestors might use. There’s a description, for example, of each of the counties, with its judicial officers (chief judge and associate judges, clerk, register of wills and prosecutor), when and where the court sat, the county seat, principal products, both agricultural and manufactured, and any ores found.5

You find descriptions of all the little towns, crossroads big enough to sport a general store, and more.

In Somerset County, for example, “bounded on North by Wicomico County, on the East by Worcester County, on the South by Chesapeake Bay, and the West by Tangier Sound,”6 we find that the town of Crisfield in 1871 was:

An enterprising town situated in the extreme southern part of the county. It is connected with Princess Anne, the county seat, by the Eastern Shore Railroad, and with Baltimore city by a line of steamers, and many small sailing vessels, which are actively engaged in the transportation of oysters, produce, &c. The town is growing very rapidly, and bids fair to do a large share of the trade on the Eastern Shore.7

And we then get the 58 businesses, merchants and officials of the town ranging from James Riggins the blacksmith to Thomas Wheaton the judge of the orphans court to T.H. Goodsell the oyster packer — we also get the 66 farmers who called Crisfield and its environs home.

Starting with Thomas Batts and Levi Bird8 and ending with the Wards (Edward, Henry W., James W., John and Noah),9 every last man of them listed by name.

So… lesson learned…

Just because our folks were rural doesn’t mean we can’t ever use those marvelous directories published between the censuses.

Always check to see if there was one that provided more, beyond the city limits.


  1. The State Gazette and Merchants and Farmers’ Directory for Maryland and District of Columbia (Baltimore: Sadler, Drysdale & Purnell, 1871); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 12 Sep 2017).

    And it’s chock full of information we can use if our folks were in Maryland at that time, even if they weren’t in the cities.

    The volume itself explains, on the inside cover page, that it’s going to be “Giving Place and Style of Business firms and person engaged in commercial and professional pursuits, together with the names of all the principal Farmers, Agriculturists and Horticulturists in the State of Maryland and District of Columbia” and list “All Cities, Towns and Villages on the various Railroad and Steamboat Lines, geographically located; also an appendix containing the UNITED STATES STAMP DUTIES.”[2. Ibid., title page.

  2. Ibid., “Baltimore City,” at 1.
  3. Ibid., at 4.
  4. Ibid., at 65.
  5. E.g., “Baltimore County,” ibid., at 459; “Somerset County,” ibid., at 694.
  6. Ibid., “Somerset County,” at 694.
  7. Ibid., Crisfield, at 695.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., at 696.
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