Last fall, I wrote an article about the importance of city directories for Toronto family history research—really for all Toronto historical research. They are a way to see the development of the city and to stroll around the neighbourhood where your ancestor lived, worked, worshipped and shopped. A reader of that September 2 article has asked a question and has inspired this new post.
The question: Any idea which month the Toronto city directories were published?
Well, I don’t think there is any one answer. Directories were commercial ventures and I’m sure each publisher would work at a different pace. Speed was, as they say, of the essence, and a major selling point.
To be most useful, a directory had to be as current as possible. They were therefore compiled in a hurry. Some 19th century compilers boasted that their directories were compiled in 6 to 8 weeks, including door-to-door canvas, compilation, and binding. This of course, led to errors.
Up until 2000, Might’s directories produced a five volume set for Toronto. These recent Toronto directories were based on the phone book and took about an additional 2 months to produce after the phone book’s release.
But narrowing down the window when the directory information was collected could be crucial to pinning down the date when an ancestor arrived or left the city or moved within it—or died.
With a little perseverance you can probably establish that window using newspapers. Directory publishers needed to establish their credibility with both potential purchasers and the general public, and the best way to do this was with a prospectus for the upcoming publication in the newspaper. The newspaper notice would go a long way towards explaining that nosy parker at the door.
Once the directory was ready, or ready to go to press, it needed to be sold, and newspapers were one of the few ways of doing that. I found an announcement for the 1883 directory in The Globe on January 30, so presumably the book (more useful than “any hitherto published”) was compiled during the last couple of months of 1882. If your ancestor appears on the list “too late for regular insertion” that would narrow the window even more.
If this article inspires you to find the dates for a Toronto directory, I’d love to hear about it.
There’s a great article about searchable digitized Toronto newspapers available through the Toronto Public Library on its Local History and Genealogy blog.