Early city directories were published by newspaper offices and in the mid-nineteenth century there were a number of companies publishing directories. In 1870 the R. L. Polk Company was established, which became the largest and a widely recognized publisher of city directories.
As noted, city directories are very useful tools in finding where people were in a particular place and time. The names are listed alphabetically by surname and can give information on where an ancestor lived over a number of years. In many cases, an occupation or employer is listed. Widows and single employed women are also included. Spouses (wife) names appear in the 20th century directories. Minor children are not listed but "adult" children that work or attend school are often listed.
There are other useful parts to a city directory in addition to the alphabetical listing of names. Abbreviations used in the directory are listed at the beginning of the alphabetical name listing in each directory. Many cities have an introduction which includes information about the city's government offices and listings of churches, cemeteries, schools, businesses, etc. City directories also include a classified business directory section that follows the alphabetical resident listings.
The earliest city directories that are available for Minnesota are from Minneapolis, which begins with 1859 and St. Paul beginning with 1856. Other cities with long runs of directory publication, for example, include Stillwater, Duluth, Mankato and St. Cloud.
Directories may include two or more cities in one volume. For example, the cities of Faribault and Northfield and the Iron Range cities of Cloquet, Hibbing, etc.
In 1930 directories added a separate section, by address, which became commonly referred to as the "reverse directory". This section is listed by street name and number listing the name of the occupant - opposite of the alphabetical section! This information can be helpful in finding information about a home or building and who has owned, resided at or operated a business at a particular location.
To locate city directories in the Library's collections:
Many of the early city directories, particular Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth are microfilmed and these can be accessed in the Hubbs Microform Room. More details on using this room can be found here.
Minneapolis City Directories:
1859/1860: Reserve room
1865-1960: Microfilm (Hubbs Room - M204)
1944-2003: WRR stacks (not printed: 1943, 1945, 1947, 1949)
Reading Room Printed Duplicates: 1856/66, 1871/72, 1880/90, 1895/96, 1897, 1900, 1905, 1908, 1910, 1915, 1917, 1919, 1920, 1930, 1940
St. Paul City Directories:
1856-1859: Microfiche (Hubbs Room)
1863-1941: Microfilm (Hubbs Room - M201)
1941-1999: WRR stacks
Reading Room Printed Duplicates: 1856/57, 1858.59, 1875, 1880/81, 1884/85, 1890/91, 1893-95, 1903-08, 1910-11, 1915, 1920, 1930, 1940
1884-1982: Microfilm (Hubbs Room - M221)
Dual City Blue Book Directories:
These directories are considered "social" directories and include Minneapolis and St. Paul and listings for Fort Snelling, Hamline and Merriam Park. They published biannually and include a separate name and address section for Minneapolis & St. Paul . These were produced for the years of 1885-1924.
MNHS Call number: Reading Room F613.T22 D8
The Hennepin County Library has digitized the Minneapolis City Directories from 1859 to 1922.
The Saint Paul Public Library has digitized the Saint Paul City Directories from 1856 - 1922.
Ancestry.com has access to many city directories (non-Minnesota). (Access to Ancestry.com is only available at the library).