City Directories

Polk's City Directories

After newspapers, city directories are the most important source of local history information. A full city directory search will tell a great deal about the history and changing fortunes of a house, building, business, or family. A search for an individual may reveal changes in name usage (particularly for foreign immigrants), spouse, residence or occupation. Sometimes the last listing for a person may give his death date or the name of the city to which he "removed."  Full listings for houses will reveal changes in address, occupants, and whether or not it was ever used for a business. A complete list for a business might show changing name, officers, product lines or locations and is often useful in site contamination studies.

Our holdings of Kalamazoo City Directories

The first Kalamazoo city directory was issued in 1860.  The library owns all the Kalamazoo directories that were published, although they did not come out every year. The call number for Kalamazoo city directories is H 917.7417 K14

Our holdings of Kalamazoo County Directories

County directories are sporadic.  Sometimes they are included with the city directory, sometimes not.  The last county directory to be included with a city directory was 1919.  There was a run of "suburban" directories from 1966-76.  In 1977 the suburban directories became part of the regular city directory.  Note that the suburban directories did not pick up the rural parts of the county.  The suburban directories follow the city directories on the shelf (H 917.7417 K141). County directories sometimes give the section of the township in which a resident lived and the number of acres of the farm.

There are also several separate county directories:

How the directories are organized

Generally the city directories are organized into alphabetical and street-order sections, with a business directory by subject at the end.  The street-order part does not appear until 1897.  In the older volumes, that part generally comes first.  In the 1920's it switches to the end.  In those directories that include county listings, the county, with a separate business listing, comes at the end.  Sometimes the county listings are divided up into specific villages, sometimes they are listed together in one alphabetical sequence.

Each directory contains useful miscellaneous material at the beginning. The introductory material usually includes lists of government officials, public buildings, societies, churches and schools. Around the turn of the century, telephone numbers are listed before regular phone directories began to be published.  Many of the earlier directories also contain lists of incorporated companies with their officers, founding date, capitalization, and products produced.  Sometimes that is the only place where that sort of business information can be found.  Starting in 1997, there is a section of demographic information in the back. Indexed street maps were added in 1999.

Special features of particular directories

1867-68 contains a history of the city of Kalamazoo.

1869-70 contains a history of Kalamazoo County, with an index on the last fiche in the set (no index in the paper copy).

1876 has a "Historical and Business Review," with an index on the last two fiche, that is good for basic coverage on businesses of the time.  There is also an index in the back of the bound photocopy on the shelf in the Local History Room.

1883 street numbering changed to the Philadelphia system,  which numbered from a central point.  Before that, buildings were numbered from the river.  In Kalamazoo, the central point is the intersection of Burdick (now Kalamazoo Mall) and Michigan Avenue (changed from Main Street in the late 1920's).  If you walk away from that point in any direction, the even numbers will be on your right, the odd ones on your left.

1897 is the first year in which listings also appear in street number order.

1901 wives first began appearing in parentheses after their husbands.  Before that, women appeared only if they were employed or were single heads of households (usually widows).

1925 street numbering changed city-wide.  Some house numbers didn't change at all.  Others changed a few numbers, usually a little higher than the old one.  There is no 1925 directory, so the 1924 and 1926 must be carefully compared.  The 1932 Sanborn Map on top of the atlas case gives both the old and the new house numbers.

Changes in street names

There are a number of streets whose names have changed over the course of their history.  Here are some of them:

  • Cork used to be St. James. (The tradition is that so many Irish paper mill workers lived there that it was nicknamed after County Cork in Ireland.  In some directories it is listed both ways.  Eventually St. James fell out of use altogether.)
  • Main Street east of the river used to be East Avenue.
  • Michigan Avenue used to be Main Street.
  • Oakland Drive used to be Asylum Avenue.
  • Riverview used to be Seminary.
  • South Street east of the jog at Henrietta, was Cherry.
  • Vine used to be Rice.
  • Westnedge was West Street north of Lovell, and College south of it.

Older maps can be consulted to locate others as needed.

Other helpful information

In front of the alphabetical section (most years) there is a list of abbreviations used.  The mostly commonly asked about ones are "bds," which means "boards at," and "lab," which means "laborer."

As children reached the age of 18, they were considered boarders in their parents' home, so if you watch the addresses carefully as the children come of age, you can put families together.

If a woman disappears from the alphabetical section, look under her old address in the next directory. Sometimes she will appear at an old address under a new married name, or she takes back her maiden name.

When doing a house or building search, pay careful attention to the odd and even sides of the street. You may follow the wrong building if you don't.

In the early days, office buildings were known as "blocks," so, for instance, the building on the Mall that is now known as the McNair Building was originally called the McNair Block.

If there are no clues as to the date of the subject of a search (that is, no information can be found in either the History Room files or the local newspaper and magazine index), start by searching once a decade.  If no information is found that way, continue with a half-decade search.  Proceed to search remaining directories as needed.

For a house/building search, it is best to work backwards from the present because it is less likely that the wrong building will be followed when the address changes.

Other useful directories

Telephone

Although telephone directories do not include the same sorts of information that city directories do, they can sometimes be used to supplement city directories, especially when a city directory has not been issued for several years (they were particularly irregular during the Depression and World War II).  Useful information about businesses can be gleaned from display ads in the Yellow Pages.  The oldest Kalamazoo telephone directory in our collection is 1913, although our run does not become reliably complete until 1949. The call number for telephone books is H 917.7417 M624.

Other Michigan Cities

We also have some directories for other cities in Michigan:  Battle Creek, Bay City, Coldwater, Ishpeming, Marquette, Muskegon, Negaunee, and Saginaw.  Check the catalog for our holdings on these. Coldwater is only available on microfilm.  The others are in paper editions.

Criss-Cross Directories

Criss-cross directories do not list people in alphabetical order, but only in street-number and telephone number order.  Their particular virtue is that they cover territory outside the limits of Kalamazoo city and county.  The oldest in our run is 1954.  In the 1970's, they began to be published by the Bresser Company and are often referred to simply as "Bresser's."  The key thing to remember about searching these is that there are often streets of the same name in several different communities. Also, the same straight stretch of road may change names several times as it passes through various incorporated places.  Miller Road, for instance, becomes ML Avenue outside the city of Kalamazoo. So be sure that you are looking at what you are looking for! The call number for the criss-cross directories is H 917.7417 K143.

Gazetteers and Business Directories

There is also a variety of Michigan state gazetteers and business directories under several titles.  The oldest of these, 1856, doesn't even give addresses, but is sometimes useful for confirming that a business existed at that early date.  While that one in particular doesn't list heads of households, the way the later city directories do, it does list ministers, newspaper editors and public officials.  The easiest way to find the state directories is by subject heading: Michigan Directories; Business Directories; Michigan Manufactures Directories; and Industries Michigan Directories.

Sources

"Directories"

  • Gordon Remington
  • The Source, Third Edition, pages 325-352
  • Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006
  • H 929.1 S998 2006