Ohio Directories

March 18, 2021

Detail of a Business DirectoryOhio city and county directories are listed in the OGS Library Catalog along with a complete PDF listing in the Research Resources section of Library Special Collections.

These directories are fairly straight forward and are the topic of many genealogical lectures, being used to track city dwellers in between census years, as well as locating tenants who did not own real property. OGS has digitized many of our oldest city and county directories which can be found in Genealogy Resources>Digitized Books and Genealogy Resources>Library Special Collections.

There are two things to remember with directory research. First, OGS has an incomplete collection for the three largest cities in Ohio – Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. This may be simply because the volumes are so thick that they do not hold up well structurally as books. The bindings break, they cannot stand on a shelf, and they tend to be pitched by the owners before they get to our repository. Luckily, many city libraries have made an effort to scan their city directories as one of their very first digitization projects. The Cincinnati Digital Library is a great example – https://digital.cincinnatilibrary.org/

Second, the companies that initially filmed and marketed historic city directories did so on microfiche cards rather than on microfilm rolls. The latter works much better with automated scanners, so we do not see as many Ohio directories in the online venues at this point. This will certainly change.

However, the purpose of this blog post is to point out the highly valuable state business directories. They do not list all Ohio residents. That would certainly have been a massive effort with many volumes needed for the entire state. But they do record businesses in every large city and small town across Ohio. Researchers who are interested in the history of downtown businesses and those with ancestors who had business interests will be highly rewarded with a year-by-year search.
Title Page of Shippers' Directory
And these statewide directories went into publication in the mid-19th century. This is great because many small city directory runs don’t even begin until the mid-20th century. Williams and Company in Cincinnati completed their first volume in 1866. A competing company, Dun and Bradstreet, is still in operation today serving businesses. John M. Bradstreet published his first commercial ratings book in 1851 in Cincinnati and, in 1859, turned this part of the business over to his brother-in-law, Robert Graham Dun. The expansive title, The Mercantile Agency Reference Book Containing Ratings of the Merchants, Manufacturers, and Traders Generally, Throughout the United States & Canada, often does not name the R.G. Dun Company or Dun & Bradstreet in cataloging records, and therefore can be hard to find in a library. These books often give a short description of the town in gazetteer format (alphabetical by community) and a listing of the prominent businessmen – hotel managers, blacksmiths, physicians, dry goods merchants, justices of the peace, carriage manufacturers, postmasters, and occasionally an important farmer.

Check out the OGS collection of Ohio directories and investigate holdings in other institutions where your ancestors resided. Some of these volumes are very rare and difficult to locate. They can be a valuable tool in your family history research.