Historical Minneapolis city directories now accessible online

Want to find out about the history of a house in Minneapolis? Looking for historical information about a longtime Minneapolis business? Minneapolis city directories from 1859 to 1917 can now be accessed online through Hennepin County Library’s website, www.hclib.org.

The directories include historical information about former city residents and their occupations, plus local businesses, and are one of the most heavily-used resources of Hennepin County Library’s James K. Hosmer Special Collections, according to Ted Hathaway, Special Collections librarian at Hennepin County Library – Minneapolis Central.

The directories were digitized thanks to a donation from the former Professional Librarians Union of Minneapolis. “Digitization not only allows for remote access 24/7/365, but also keyword searching. Original copies were nearly unusable from decay, and microfilm copies were even more difficult to use,” Hathaway said.

The original copies have also been replaced with preservation photocopy duplicates.

Library staff plan on digitizing directories from 1918-1922 later this year.

Directories are a great resource for anyone researching family history. Library patrons can use the directories to find out where past relatives lived and what they did.

A patron researching the history of a local advertising agency checked the directories to discover where the agency’s offices were located, any satellite offices and the names of the chief officers associated with the company. Then, in turn, the patron checked the directories to see where the officers lived.

Phil Anderson, a professor of liberal arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, has used the print editions of the city directories at least once a week for several months to browse neighborhoods and learn about nearby stores. He is interested in immigrant assimilation and trends in the making and marketing of foods, and tracks the City Directories’ individual narratives to determine the broader cultural story.

“I am researching the histories of food retailing in South Minneapolis — bakeries, mercados and halal markets,” Anderson said. “So I've looked up ‘bakeries,’ for example, and found addresses for nearly every year of the 20th century.

“Over the years, the directory listings about any one person show where they moved, occasionally who their employer was, how their careers might have changed. From this, knowing some neighborhood history, it's been possible to guess about their relative success in their careers, as well as their longevity in the business, of course.”

Anderson continued, “One of my biggest discoveries has been the dramatic rise and then decline in the sheer number of bakeries in just south Minneapolis over the years — from a peak of 116 in 1937, to roughly 24 in the 1980s and 1990s. The listings are usually for ‘Baked Goods’ or ‘Bakers and Confectioners,’ so some entries may be for candy shops, bagel or cookie shops, or commercial baking plants. Even so, that's a dramatic contrast from year to year.

“[Print edition] directories from 1930 on provide door-by-door listings of who or what business was at what address along every street. This has been very helpful to see how neighborhoods change.”

He added, “Later, using census data and ancestry.com, I've been able to find out where some of these proprietors came from — whether immigrant or Minnesota-born — and how long they lived in Minneapolis. In addition, correlating with maps and especially public transit routes, it's been possible to understand how people shopped for food, especially in the days before widespread car ownership and supermarkets.”

Anderson has used the directories mostly for professional research. “But I was also able to see where my parents lived before they were married, and to guess at how long it took my father to walk to my mother's rooming house on the U of M campus.”

He recommends the city directories to others researching Minneapolis people, businesses and/or culture. “There are hundreds of reasons to understand where people or businesses and institutions were at any particular time.”

How unique are these digitized city directories from 1859-1917? Librarian Hathaway said, “The genealogy website www.ancestry.com has digital versions of the directories, but those are only available to subscribers and, in the case of Hennepin County Library’s subscription, must be used at a library.” Hennepin County Library’s new digital versions, on the other hand, are freely accessible from your home computer.

For more information, contact Special Collections at 612-543-8200 or http://www.hclib.org/specialcollections/, or contact Hennepin County Library’s AskUs Service at http://www.hclib.org/pub/search/ask.cfm. 

 

Published Apr 11, 2013