Professional Directories

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This article is part of a series.
Overview of Directories
Locating Directories
City Directories
Using Census Records with Directories
City Directories and World War I Draft Registration Cards
Using Death and Probate Records with Directories
Using Church Records with Directories
Using Naturalization and Land Records with Directories
Telephone Directories
Directories on Microform
Professional Directories
Organizational Directories
Religious Directories
Post Office and Street Directories
List of Useful Directory References

This article originally appeared in "Directories" by Gordon L. Remington, FASG, FUGA in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

The late nineteenth-century business directory, as might be expected, coincided with a proliferation of specialized professions. As Directories in Print confirms, the number of professional directories at present is astounding. Refer to that work for information on twentieth-century professional directories. In this section we will consider only law, medicine, civil and military service, and a category called miscellaneous. We will consider each of these professions separately due to the different circumstances under which each directory was published.


The description of law directories in the original Directory of Directories is representative of the history of professional directories and the criteria by which they are compiled:

Background: '˜Law Lists' refers to a group of directories which provide varying amounts of information about lawyers, and which were formerly certified by a committee of the American Bar Association as being ethically appropriate sources in which lawyers could make known their availability for consultation. As a result of the United States Supreme Court decision in 1977 governing advertising by lawyers and subsequent actions by the ABA, the Standing Committee on Law Lists no longer certifies law lists, state or national, as being in compliance with any rules or standard. (In response to requests for guidance from some states the committee prepared proposed guidelines for state regulation of law lists which were submitted to committees of the ABA and reported to the ABA house of delegates in August 1979.) About sixty law lists were formerly certified by the committee and described in the '˜Directory Information Service.' These listings, revised as needed, are continued in this volume. The law list which has operated longest under a single title is '˜Campbell's List,' established in 1879. '˜Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory,' resulted from a merger of '˜Martindale's American Law Directory,' founded in 1868, and '˜Hubbell's Legal Directory,' founded in 1870; it is currently the largest of the law lists and among the most highly regarded. Covers: Martindale-Hubbell, a national list, and the state and regional directories published by the Legal Directories Publishing Company, Inc., are the only comprehensive law lists which include every attorney nationally or in an area. There are no law lists which attempt to include every attorney in a special field. In fact, the essence of the appeal of law lists is exclusivity: all lists charge fees for inclusion (usually based on the population of the area where a given attorney practices, and ranging to $600 or more), except [that] comprehensive lists include a minimum listing without a fee; many lists operate on the basis of '˜exclusive representation,' i.e., they list only one firm in a given locality. A few, such as the '˜Rand McNally List of Bank-Recommended Attorneys,' operate on the basis of recommendations or sponsorships. Some lists use rating systems, and firms listed are coded for ability, diligence, and so forth., as evaluated by peers. Entries include: Even within a single law list, entries may run from a brief name-and-address notation to one or two pages or more, depending upon the size of the firm and how much it is willing to spend for its listing. In a typical full entry, a firm name, address, and phone will be given along with names and backgrounds of partners and names of typical clients; associates may also be listed. Many lists include uniformly less data. Arrangement: The most frequent use of a law list is in finding a lawyer in a location where the user has no contacts. Therefore, nearly all law lists are geographical in arrangement. Indexes: Alphabetical indexes by personal name may or may not be provided. Price: Part of the service provided by law list publishers is the free distribution of their lists to lawyers listed and to others who can be assumed to be users of the services of lawyers listed. There is no ethical restriction on the sale of law lists, but it was the experience of the DOD staff in compiling law list material that many publishers are not anxious to give laypersons information about their publications to promote commercial sales; whether this lack of cooperation resulted from a desire to enhance the exclusive image of their lists or for other reasons is not clear.<ref>James M. Ethridge, ed., The Directory of Directories (Detroit: Information Enterprises, 1908), 245, reprinted by permission.</ref>

Law directories are generally arranged by state and are frequently not indexed. In the past, law directories could generally be found on the local and state level. In areas where such regional directories are not available prior to the advent of the national directories in the 1870s, you can usually find lawyers in general business directories. Most law directories today are national-level directories, but there are some on the state and local levels, particularly in large metropolitan areas.

Law directories locate an individual in place and time for the purposes of gaining access to, or linking with, other sources, including other directories. Other significant data may include the law school graduated from, or in cases where law was read, the state in which the lawyer was first admitted to the bar. You may also find other biographical information that helps you trace an individual lawyer's career and suggests other records to search.


The American Medical Directory, published under the auspices of the American Medical Association, has existed only since 1906. Unlike law directories, it is published intermittently, so a complete collection may not cover every year since 1906. The directory is arranged by state, and the later editions also contain alphabetical listings. Before 1906, medical directories were published by private companies or by local and state medical associations. Some city directories contained separate lists for doctors, and doctors were listed in general business directories as well.

The American Medical Directory presently contains the following information: name, address, year licensed, medical school, type of practice, primary and secondary specialties, and board certifications. Some of the earlier editions also contain year of birth and year graduated from medical school.

Medical directories help you locate a person in place and time and provide links with other sources.

Civil and Military Service

In 1816, Congress passed a bill providing for the biennial publication of a register 'containing correct lists of all the officers and agents, civil, military, and naval, in the service of the United States.' This list contained the individual's name and office, pay, place of birth, and place of residence. The resolution further provided that the registers should be current as of 30 September the year preceding the publication date. Thus, the civil register for 1864 would reflect information collected in 1863. In 1851, the state from which the person was appointed was added.<ref>Adjutant General's Office, Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military and Naval in the Service of the United States 30 Sept. 1863 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1864), notes.</ref>

Although the main register of government civil servants contained the names of military and naval officers, separate registers for these two services were also eventually published. These registers are considerably more detailed than the general register. They contain the date of enlistment or entry into the service and the date the most recent rank was achieved. In addition, the state of birth and state from which an officer was appointed are invaluable as links to other sources when military service records are not readily available.

These army and navy registers include officers only. Army and navy registers accounted for regular (career) service only. Therefore, an ancestor known to have been an officer in the Civil War may not be listed if he was part of the volunteer army. Directories of army and navy officers might also be found in directories for graduates of the appropriate service academies.

The general register is arranged alphabetically. The army register is arranged by regiment, with a name index and a list of where each regiment was stationed in the year of publication. The navy register is arranged by ship rather than regiment and includes the location of each ship. The Marine Corps is listed in the navy register.

The government of the United States has probably generated more paper than any single organization in the history of this country. If an ancestor worked for the government, there should be a record of it somewhere. These registers can connect you with those records when information more specific than 'he worked for the government' or 'he was an army officer' is unavailable.

Miscellaneous Professions

Early directories exist for a number of professions. R. L. Polk published the following directories before 1920:

Dental Register of the United States
Architects' and Builders' Directory of the United States
Marine Directory of the Great Lakes
Ohio Architects' and Builders' Directory
Pennsylvania Architects' and Builders' Directory
Western New York Architects and Builders' Directory

The Library of Congress has these early professional directories: The Dentist Register (1879); Banker's Almanac and Year Book (1844); Rand McNally Banker's Blue Book (1872); and Polk's World Bank Directory (1895). Perhaps the best way to find out whether an early professional directory exists is to find that profession in the Directory of Directories and contact the publisher.

One directory that has been published only since 1932 is nevertheless relevant to earlier genealogical research: The American Blue Book of Funeral Directors, published every two years. Any professional directory locates an ancestor in time and place, but the funeral director's blue book lets you trace a funeral home to the present day and, if it has gone out of business, perhaps determine the successor and thus where the records might be. A funeral home in business in 1932 may have existed for fifty years. In a given community, its records could almost substitute for death registers.

Similarly, the can help in locating cemeteries where your ancestors might be buried, especially if the name or ownership of the cemetery has changed.

How to Use Professional Directories

Following are two hypothetical examples relevant to our use of various professional directories:

From American Medical Directory, 1909, 3rd ed. (Chicago: American Medical Association Press, 1909), 799.

The ancestor in question is known to have been a doctor in the greater New York City area about 1910, but whether in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, Long Island, Westchester County, Connecticut, or New Jersey is unknown. The American Medical Directory for 1909 had an alphabetical listing, and Lucy Criddle Jones was easily located in its New York City section.

This listing indicates that Lucy Criddle Jones was born in 1872, that she graduated from Syracuse University Medical School in 1898, and that in 1909 she lived at 212 East 53rd Street. (Office addresses are indicated separately from home addresses.) From this information, positive identification can be made using Manhattan city directories and, subsequently, the census. In addition, medical school records can be consulted.

From Adjunct General's Office, Official Army Register for 1860 (Washington, D.C.: Government Press, 1860), 16.

Robert Nelson Eagle was known to have been a lieutenant in the U.S. Army before the Civil War, and family lore held that he had served with Robert E. Lee. Eagle was listed in the army register for 1860 as serving with the Second Regiment of Cavalry, of which Robert E. Lee was lieutenant colonel. Eagle had entered the service as a first lieutenant on 3 March 1855. He was born in New York but appointed from Texas. Since the register also gave the location of the Second Regiment in 1860, the census for that year as well as military records could be consulted.



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