How to Find Chicago City Directories

Chicago directories are available on FamilySearch microfilm but, with the exception of 1928/29, they are also easily available online.

Subscription Sites

Fold3.com is a go-to site for Chicago city directories. It provides easy access to digital images of all available volumes up through 1923 (some years were skipped) but it doesn't include the 1928/1929 edition. The site can be accessed for free at Family History Centers, if you don't have a subscription. (Once you're at Fold3, click "Browse Records," then "Non-military Records," and you'll see the links for city dirctories.)

Ancestry.com also has a great collection of Chicago directories in a database titled U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989. You can access them using the search feature, or you can browse by selecting the city and year from the drop-down menus on the right. The date range runs from 1839 to 1947, but be aware that some of the directories, especially those after 1928, may be business directories.

Free Sites

ChicagoAncestors.org
1866, 1870, 1871, 1880, 1885, 1892, 1900, 1910, 1923
(PDF files take time to download, but access is free)

ChicagoHistory.org
1928/29
(PDF file; this "Numerical Street and Avenue Directory," arranged by address, is a companion to the regular directory, arranged by name, and it's helpful for locating hard-to-find individuals in the 1930 census. Check the directory to see who's living on the same street and then check the census for neighbors. This version of the directory is the only one that lists wives' names.

OldDirectorySearch.com
1844 (PDF)

Google Books
1855-56 Chicago City Directory and Business Advertiser
1856 May Supplement Chicago City Directory and Business Advertiser, Fergus 1887 Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago

DistantCousin.com
1855/56 (transcription)

In Person

Chicago city directories are also available at research facilities such as the Newberry Library, the Chicago History Museum, the Harold Washington Library, the Arlington Heights Library, and the Wilmette Family History Center. They can also be viewed on Family History Library microfiche and microfilm.

The volumes researchers usually think of as "Chicago city directories" end with the 1928 edition, but there are other directory resources available.

Business Directories--Check Ancestry.com for directories after 1928. Their U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 database includes miscellaneous directories up through 1947.

Telephone Books--The Harold Washington Library has telephone books on microfilm. They can be useful in determining residence and address but tiny out-of-focus type makes some of the volumes nearly impossible to read.

For other ideas, please see the "Directory" heading on the Helpful Websites page.

FAQ

What years do directories cover?

The volumes generally thought of as "Chicago city directories" begin with the 1839 Fergus' Directory of the City of Chicago and end with the 1928/1929 Polk's Chicago City Directory with a few gaps. Directories weren't printed for 1918-1922 and 1924-1927. For background information on city directory publication, see Chicago - the Missing City Directories on the Newberry Library blog. There are, however, miscellanous directories available for later years--business directories, for example, and criss-cross directories. Check local library holdings for availability.

When were directories canvassed?

Chicago Tribune articles suggest that, at least in some years, the names were collected in the spring so that the directory could be printed in the summer.

Are there other kinds of directories?

In addition to the "city directories" you can find directories for ethnic communities, business professions, and elite society. Check Newberry's list of directories to see if any might be relevant to your search. Some examples include Bohemian-Americans, 1915 and Colored Society and Business, 1905.

And, of course, there were telephone books. You can find them at Newberry and at the Harold Washington Library.

What information do the directories include?

The directories generally include male heads of household and widows but there are sometimes entries for women who work outside the home or for students. Information for entries for individuals may include occupation, home address, and/or business address. Directories also included listings for government agencies, churches, clubs, and businesses.

The 1928/29 reverse directory includes spouse names.

Check the first few pages for new entries that were too late to include in the alphabetical directory.

Any search tips?

1) Names may be misspelled and they may be spelled differently from year to year.

2) Try searching by address using the directories available on Fold3.com. It may help you locate people whose names are misspelled and it can sometimes help you learn who was living with a family.

3) A reverse directory (arranged by address) that included spouse names is available online for 1928/1929.

4) Widows are often listed as such, e.g., Anna (wid Thomas), and sometimes that can be used to narrow a husband's death date.

5) Check the first few pages for new entries that were too late to include in the alphabetical directory.