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The Other Directories: Society Blue Books

My ancestors were not listed in anybody’s “blue book.” Nevertheless, blue books or society registers provide a fascinating glimpse into the way the other half lived, and to which my relatives may have aspired.

Selected blue books in the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at Toronto Reference Library

Why blue? Blue seems to have been the colour of choice for many official lists for more than 400 years in the UK and North America. Perhaps it was the permanence of the blue dye that made the books feel authoritative? The topics were diverse, so the connection to “blue blood” is probably a red herring. Whatever the reason, the name “blue book” stuck.

The Royal Blue Book from London, England, began publication in about 1820. The 1911 edition claimed to give the “names and addresses of the better class private residents”. It was issued twice a year, at Christmas and in May. The book was aimed at the audience it represented—and would have been an essential reference for hostesses and for guests at the grand houses. The pages were also full of information about government departments, banks, insurance companies, sporting events, and clubs. Advertisements were tasteful and tailored to the clientele—no butchers, but “diamond and pearl merchants.”

The first blue books in North America were published in the US in the 1880s, and really seemed to hit their stride around the turn of the century.

The Élite Directory and Club List of Toronto was published by James Bain, a bookstore owner, in 1894. Like most North American blue books it also took on the task of gently informing the new élite about etiquette—what stationery to use, when one could pay a visit, how to reply to an invitation, and how guests ought to be introduced. The Élite Directory included street listings—but of course not just any streets. It listed the members of twelve “worthy” clubs, and the officers of military regiments.

A sample of families listed in Tyrrell’s 1903/4 Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London

A new edition of The Elite Directory was published in 1898 along with Foster’s Toronto Blue Book and Home Directory. A New York company also produced Dau’s Official Blue-book for Toronto the same year. Annual or biennial blue books for Toronto were produced by a number of different publishers—Foster’s, Wm. Tyrrell, and Dau’s—from 1900 to about 1912.

pages showing advertisements

Services for the well-heeled in Tyrrell’s 1904/4 blue book

The books came back in full force in 1921 with William J. Covington’s The Torontonian Society Blue Book and Club List. It was a bigger, more appealing book with photos of society events and club facilities. It was published regularly until 1946.

For a family historian, blue books can add details to your ancestor’s story—their address, summer residence, what days they were willing to receive visitors, and to what clubs and organizations they belonged. Maiden names were usually supplied for married women, and if adult children were living apart, their residences might also be listed. Some blue books supplied brief biographies for some individuals—presumably for a fee.

It is very interesting to see the goods and services offered by advertisers to the well-heeled readers—everything from insurance, fine furniture, fashion, to medical services and finishing schools.

Most of the Toronto blue books can be found at the Toronto Reference Library. Some have been digitized by the Library and other organizations. You’ll find a list of titles, locations and available links below.


Toronto Blue Books

This chronological list includes locations where you can find each blue book in Toronto (in parentheses) as well as links to online versions when available. Libraries are abbreviated as follows:

  • TRL = Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street
  • OGS = Library of the Ontario Genealogical Society, housed at TRL (see above)
  • CIHM = Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions (a fiche collection available at TRL and most Canadian university libraries)

1894: The élite directory and club list of Toronto. Toronto: James Bain & Son, 1894-5. (TRL)

1898: The élite directory and club list of Toronto. Toronto: James Bain & Son, 1898. (TRL)

1898: Dau’s Official Blue-book for Toronto: Society Directory, Club Membership. Buffalo: Dau Publishing Co. (TRL)

1898: Foster’s Toronto Blue Book and Home Directory. Toronto: J.G. Foster, 1898 (CIHM)

1900: Society Blue Book: A Social Directory. Toronto: W. Tyrrell & Co., 1900 (TRL and CIHM)

1900: Foster’s Blue Book or Ladies’ Directory of Toronto, 1900, 2nd edition. Toronto: J.G. Foster & Co., 1900 (TRL)

1902: [Tyrrell’s] The Toronto and Hamilton Society Blue Book: A Social Directory. Toronto: W. Tyrrell & Co., 1902. A second online version here: http://eco.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.74510/1?r=0&s=1 (TRL)

1903: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London, etc.: A Social Directory. Toronto: Wm. Tyrrell & Co., 1903-4.  (TRL)

1904: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London, etc.: A Social Directory. Toronto: Wm. Tyrrell & Co., 1904-5.  (TRL)

1906: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London: A Social Directory. Toronto: Dau Publishing Co., 1906. (TRL)

1908: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London: A Social Directory. Toronto: Dau Publishing Co., 1908. (TRL)

1910: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London: A Social Directory. Toronto: Dau Publishing Co., 1910.  (TRL)

1911: The Society Blue Book of Toronto and Hamilton: A Social Directory. [for 1912] New York City: Dau Publishing Co., 1911.  A second online version here: http://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/bluebook191100dauuoft.pdf (TRL)

1913: The Society Blue Book, Toronto: A Social Directory. New York: Dau’s Blue Books Inc., 1913  (TRL)

1920: Dau’s Official Blue-book for Toronto: Society Directory, Club Membership. Buffalo: Dau Publishing Co. (TRL)

1920: The Society Blue Book, Toronto: A Social Directory. New York: Dau’s Blue Books Inc., 1920  (TRL)

The Torontonian Society Blue Book and Club List. Toronto: William J. Covington.

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