I have made no secret about my love of old phone books. (See blog post on our collection here.) Because the earlier ones list everything from the head of household's occupation to the names and ages of everyone at the address, researchers use them for everything from writing house histories to finding classmates for school reunions.
Our collection begins in 1931, and the first few books list only residents of the Country Club District. As more people throughout the community had phones, the directories encompassed the rest of the Village.
Before phones, major cities still published "city directories" listing residents by name, occupation and address. I was excited (yes, really) to see that the Hennepin County Library now has Minneapolis directories from 1859-1917 available online. I had been meaning to look through the library's microfiche collection, but somehow I have never made it downtown to browse just for fun.
The online collection is part of the library's Minneapolis History Special Collection, that also includes photos, yearbooks, house files, and more. You don't even need a library card to access the directories, and searching is free.
You can look at each book page by page. Or, by clicking on the "Simple Search" tab, you can look for relatives by name or search for residents of a particular address.
I searched for "Edina" and came up with some names - notables like Frank and G.A. (George) Code. (I wrote about the family our regular monthly feature in Edina Magazine here.) You can see that occupation is listed back then too. The Codes' work as "gardener City market" is easier to understand than some job titles (like "smutter," for example.)
Searching for Edina, technically not part of Minneapolis proper, takes a little creativity. Keep in mind that Edina was part of Richfield until 1888, although some people are listed as living in "Edina Mills" prior to that date. You also typically won't get specific street addresses for Edina because... well, Edina didn't have much for streets back then. With some searching, I found all the residents of Rural Route No. 2 listed in the 1903 Minneapolis directory.
Perhaps you can tell that it's easy to kill an hour or two looking through the city directories. I had a good time just looking at the ads alone.
I know I'm not the only geek -- er, researcher -- who loves them. Our collection gets a lot of use, and I'm sure the Hennepin County Library's will get even more as people can browse through them from the comfort of their own homes. Have fun!
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