Historic Business Research


City Directories 
City directories list people and businesses in alphabetical order.  Individuals often have an occupation and/or employer listed and businesses often include the names of the owner/manager/officers.  Directories also include a classified business directory section that lists businesses by category; this section is after the alphabetical listings.  Businesses also advertised in city directories, with ads on the edges of pages, between sections, etc.  

Also referred to as advertising directories, business directories often included only those businesses that could afford to pay to be included.  They were issued separately from other directories and had different coverage areas; some cover just one city while others cover counties, states, or even larger regions.  These volumes also include ads for goods and services. 

Directories for professional groups which list members (doctors, lawyers, etc.) may assist in locating an individual practice/business and may also include biographical details.  Generally arranged by state, professional directories are generally arranged by state and were highly specialized to their groups and the needs of their members at the time.  

For more information on Directories and how to find them, please visit our Directories Guide. 

Fire Insurance Maps

Fire Insurance maps are useful tools for seeing what certain buildings and neighborhoods looked like in the past. Originally created to help insure particular properties against fire, they are detailed maps showing the footprint and construction materials of residences, industrial sites, and commercial buildings.  Property boundaries, building use, house and block numbers, as well as names and widths of streets are notated in these maps.  These maps are also useful to trace the history of the development of neighborhoods and towns. If you look at a series of maps over time, you can see when other buildings and houses were built or torn down on a block.  

The Gale Family Library has more than 950 insurance maps and atlases covering Minnesota's urban areas, cities, towns, and villages. Sanborn and Rascher insurance maps are useful for conducting city-level research. Fire Underwriters Inspection Bureau Maps, or Fisher maps, are useful for researching smaller communities.  

For more information on Fire Insurance Maps and how to find them, please visit the Fire Insurance page of our Maps at MNHS Guide.  

Directories & Maps Links

MNHS Reference Staff

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