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Criss-Cross Directories

A Little Used Resource

 ©Linda Haas Davenport

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 For those of us whose ancestors were farmers and lived in rural areas it takes little time to read every line on a county census or check all the tax payer lists for a given area, but for those of us with ancestors in towns and cities it a much harder job to locate our lost families.

Criss-Cross Directories (or City Directories as they are sometimes called) are a life saver for those who must hunt their ancestors in cities or towns and many researchers do not know they even exist.

For many, many years the Polk Co. (and I'm sure other companies) have produced these directories and, at least in the past, Polk always donated a copy to the local library. The majority of the Criss-Cross Directories I have found have been in local libraries, but I understand that more and more of them are being moved to the local genealogy library or have been sent to the LDS for microfilming. There are some Criss-Cross directories that go all the way back to the 1700s so they have been around for a long time.

And now you're asking - What's a "Criss-Cross Directory" anyway and why the strange name? It's simple - because it is a Criss-Cross listing of all the people who live in a town by street address and by name. The publishers of these Directories attempted to list every adult person in the town or city. Thus almost everyone who lived in a city or town was found in these directories, either at their residence address or by their name. (Where do you think all the old junk mailers got their addresses before computers came along?).

The old Directories also included a list of businesses, schools, hospitals, churches, cemeteries, funeral homes, local societies and just about everything else you can think of. Most of these business type listings included, at a minimum, the address, a phone number (if one existed) and a owner or manager's name. Many also included a list of employees and usually their residence address. I have had no reason to check current directories so I don't know if they still list all of these or not.

The Directory is simple to use. To search for your ancestor look first in the name section which is in alphabetical order by surname and then first name. Next to the person's name you will find a home address and many times an employer or occupation listed. Go to the "Cross" section of addresses and when you find the address you will find a list of all the adults living at that address. If any adults are employed the place they work or their occupation is usually listed. In many directories you will find women listed as widows with the first name of the deceased husband. ie: White, Virgie (wid Dan)

These Directories are excellent tools for locating a family in a large city or town. By looking at the family's neighbors you can many times spot relatives just as you can in census records. If you are having trouble finding your family in the census records for a large city using a Criss-Cross Directory can give you a location which in turn can give you an enumeration district to use to find your family on the census. Most Criss-Cross Directories did not list children so you will still need to research the census records to find your complete family.

If you are unable to locate your ancestor by name but you do know his occupation you can check the business listings to see if he is listed. Many times a person worked in a city or town and lived outside of the city area that was included in the address section. By locating the person in a business listing you will many times find a home address.

These Criss-Cross directories are "usually" published every year. By checking multiple years you can find where and when your ancestor moved, changed jobs, when a son came of age and became employed while still living at home, pin-point within a year when someone died and often times find a new son-in-law living with the family. This is an excellent and much under used resource.

To locate these Criss-Cross Directories start first with the local library, then check the local genealogy library, next the state archives and don't forget to check the LDS listings since so many of the old directories have been or are being microfilmed.

I've had several people ask me if the Polk Co. has back copies of their directories and I don't know.


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