My kids are a little older now (10 and 7), so I want to encourage them to start looking at more actual record sources I use in my research. However, I don't want to overwhelm them with complicated documents and difficult-to-read handwriting. So, I thought we'd do a little something with city, town, and county directories. Directories are one of the most valuable sources of data for genealogists, and they are also one of the most simple to understand, which makes them perfect for kids to explore.
Most children today have probably never even seen, let alone used, a telephone directory. So, the first step in this activity is to explain to them what a directory is, how it was used at the time it was printed, and what important information we can learn from it. The best way in which to do this, I believe, is to physically SHOW a child an actual directory. Now, I'll be the first to admit that when we receive our local directory, it usually goes straight into the recycling bin. But, if your area still prints directories, show one to your child, or make it a point to look at an older one during your next trip to the library.
Because names and words are sometimes abbreviated in directories and those abbreviations needed to be deciphered, I decided to approach this with my kids as being a 'detective.' My daughter wanted to dress the part, and honestly, the magnifying glass came in handy, because the print in these directories can be so small.
I sat down with my daughter and gave her an 'L' page and the Abbreviations page from a 1936 Cleveland directory. I explained that this page was part of a list of people who lived in the city that year, and that they are listed in alphabetical order by last name. (She is familiar with 'ABC' order, because her classmates use it to line up in school each day.) I wrote down the surname we wanted to look for (Licciardi), and helped her find it.
Then, I showed her how she needed to decode some of the information. The first name after the surname was the husband's name, followed by the wife's name in parentheses (I had to explain what those were). I showed her how to look up 'embdr' in the abbreviations page, which she learned stood for 'embroiderer.' (I explained it as 'fancy sewing.') And, of course, I told her that this was the entry for her great-great-grandparents, Louis and Adele Licciardi. (If you have photos of the ancestors you are looking up in the directory, this is a great time to bring them out, so the child can make the connection between the faces and names.)
Once your kids master the straightforward information contained within a particular directory, go a little deeper:
- Ask them if they see multiple entries of the same surname living at the same address. Chances are those people are either immediate or extended family members.
- Talk about some of the different occupations you see. If a job is unfamiliar, look it up to learn more about it. Talk about which jobs still exist in modern society and those that do not.
- Encourage them to type a street address that they find into Google Maps. They may find an image of an ancestral home on Google Street View!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you encourage the children in your lives to explore historical directories!
©2018 Emily Kowalski Schroeder