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