Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Tip: Use City Directories and Telephone Books to Uncover Family History

City directory for Little Rock, 1913. Photo is
courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives.
City directories and telephone books have been created, mostly by private companies, for more than 100 years. These books can provide key genealogy research material but are among the most underutilized by researchers. 

City directories and telephone books can be accessed in many libraries and archives, including at the Arkansas State Archives and its two branches. Inside these books, researchers can find names and address of their ancestor and more. 

City directories in Arkansas were first published in the 1870sMainly published by R.L. Polk Co., these directories cover major cities in the state, including Little Rock, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, Texarkana and Jonesboro. Beyond the basic information of names and addresses, researchers can find an individual’s occupation and, in many cases, the name of his employerCity directories also name other relatives living in the household, such as spouse and childrenThis can be especially helpful when a researcher is looking to substitute for any missing U.S. Census records 

Directories list names alphabetically and contain a cross-street index that lists residents by street and house number. This makes it easier to identify neighbors and determine whether other relatives continue to live at the address. Researchers also can use the directory as a tool in determining if a family member has changed his or her name, which can lead to information about other relatives.  

For example, if a widow is living at an address in 1969, and the next year, an individual with the same first name is there but a different last name, she may have remarried. Researchers can look for a marriage license filed in the county courthouse, which will give information about the widow’s next marriage and possibly more. Researchers also can use directories to find her deceased husband’s death date. The directory will list her as head of household under one date, but working back through previous directories, a researcher will see when her husband is listed as head of householdThat information will give you a date range to start looking for her husband’s date of death in newspapers and other death records 

Lastly, if you know a church affiliation, benevolent society or schools your ancestor may have attended, city directories will sometimes give you a brief description and history of the organization. This information will help fill in family history and give researchers a glimpse into their ancestors’ lives. 

City directories aren’t always available because Arkansas was a rural state, and directories were not published for many areas. Telephone books can fill in this gap, but there are disadvantages. Telephone books are a 20th century source that did not list everyone living in a household or people without landline phones in their homes. The key was the resident or business had to have a phone in order to be listed, although some residents with phones chose to opt out of being listed altogether. If your ancestor is listed in a phone book, it will give you a telephone number and an address 

Telephone books provide researchers with a picture of the community at a particular timeResearchers can find cemeteries, schools and organizations to which their ancestors might be connectedResearchers can also use telephone books to find funeral homes in the area. If still in business, a researcher might be able to call and find information on any missing death dates. Churches that are still in operation might also have records and membership rolls. 

City directories and telephone books are valuable resources when doing genealogy researchThey can bring researchers closer to their ancestors by providing a snapshot of where and how they livedThe Arkansas State Archives has access to directories and telephone books from around the state. Listings for these books is available online at 

Researchers who are interested in accessing city directories and telephone books also can visit the Arkansas State Archives by calling and making a reservation. While there, researchers also have free access to, which has made directories from Arkansas and other areas of the country available online. 

To make a reservation or to make a reservation, contact the Arkansas State Archives at 501-682-6900 or email The Arkansas State Archives also offers some free research services. More information about these services is available at 

Letter from the Director: June 2020

Dr. David Ware,
state historian and director

In 1879, a board member of the Chicago Public Library posed a question for the Library’s director: Could library books spread contagious disease? The librarian, F. W. Poole, did not know, but he was a seasoned professional: He admitted as such but resolved to find out. There was nothing in the scant literature concerning contagion to guide him, so he addressed queries to leading medical authorities —doctors and professors — of the day. Some respondents dismissed the idea as ludicrous, but a large number — the cautious majority — opined that while transmission via library books was highly unlikely, the theoretical possibility could not be ruled out. Several suggested elaborate ways of disinfecting library materials, involving combinations of sulphuric acid gas, steam and dry heat.  

Over the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th, a small number of researchers continued to grapple with the question of library books and infectious diseases. In 1896, French researchers soaked books used in hospital wards in bouillon, pulverized them, then added them to culture media. Solutions made from the resulting cultures successfully infected cattle with strep, pneumonia and diphtheria—although typhoid fever and tuberculosis resisted this strenuous method. To guard against this, the French boffins recommended disinfection of books either with formaldehyde (a colorless, toxic and, possibly carcinogenic gas, used chiefly in aqueous solution as a disinfectant and preservative) or by autoclaving — that is, steam cooking books under high pressure, with unfortunate effects on bindings and paper alike. 
Such efforts continued, sporadically, until the middle of the last century. Despite a daunting lack of documented cases of library or archival materials transmitting disease, the fact that such transmission could not be completely disproved inspired a few hardy souls to continue looking for evidence that books could be killers. As late as 1950, a British hospital librarian insisted the threat might still be real —but few, probably, paid much attention. 

As we prepared to reopen the Arkansas State Archives last month, my colleagues and I had patron safety — as well as our own! —in mind as we worked out protocols for the Archives’ operation while in the shadow of the novel coronavirus. The most effective tools are masks, hand cleaning, surface disinfection and keeping a generous distance between one another; we have rearranged research rooms at each facility to make this as easy as possible. Complimentary masks and hand sanitizer are in ample supply. Stanchions and sneeze guards provide easy reminders of how to keep our respective distances. For the time being, we are asking patrons to make reservations in advance of visiting the Archives because our research rooms have a limited carrying capacity. As conditions change outside our facilities, we will adjust the rules to suit what we hope will be improvements on the Covid-19 front. 

But what, you might ask, about books, papers, microfilm and other materials? Evidence suggests that the coronavirus does not live long on books and paper, but we’re taking no chances: We will leave all patron-requested materials unshelved for at least 24 hours before returning them to their usual resting places. Patrons using them are required to wear masks and to cover archival documents with a clear polyester shield. Taken together, these simple precautions will ensure that the matter of Arkansas, our documentary heritage, will remain both safe and safe for all to use. 

And we promise: No fumigation with sulphuric acid gas. Or formaldehyde. Or autoclave. 

Arkansas State Archives Reopens

The Arkanas State Archives has more than 200 years of
Arkansas history. The Archives are open in a limited capacity.
Here, at the Arkansas State Archives, we are committed to making our researchers and visitors as safe as possible. As we reopen, we will be taking several measures to ensure the safety of our patrons and staff. 

For the time being, access to research rooms at the State Archives headquarters in Little Rock is by appointment only and will be limited to a total of four people at a time. The number of patrons who may visit the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives and the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives at one time will be limited to two people at each location.  

Hours for the research rooms are 9 a.m. until noon and 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. Headquarters and NEARA will be open Monday through Friday, while SARA will return to its normal schedule of Tuesday through Saturday.  
Little Rock patrons may schedule appointments by calling 501-682-6900 or emailing NEARA and SARA patrons should call or email the respective facilities for appointment information. For NEARA, call 870-878-6521 or email For SARA, call 870-983-2633 or email 

Patrons are required to wear a mask when in the facilities and to check their temperatures and fill out a questionnaire form. Directions, equipment and hand sanitizer will all be provided at the State Archives entrance; complimentary masks will be provided to patrons who do not have one.   

The Building Authority has instituted a policy that requires all visitors to wear masks when they enter the building. Visitors who do not have masks may call the State Archives, which is located on the second floor, and we can bring a mask to the entrance area for you 

We apologize for any inconvenience but look forward to safely serving our patrons. The Arkansas State Archives houses 200 years of Arkansas history ready to be explored.