Long before there were telephones or telephone directories there were city directories. These gave the name, address and even occupation of many of the residents, some of their family members and may have indicated whether they owned, rented or “lodged” at their address. One of the first instances where we find David Adams – Margaret Edythe Young’s grandfather – is in Gardner’s New Orleans Directory for 1861 where he is listed as a baker living at 126 Howard Street [between Camp and Magazine just south of St. Joseph Street and currently the location of the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum]. This directory not only contains the details of many people and business’s in New Orleans but is something of a historical treasure trove containing the Planter’s Directory of all of the cotton and sugar plantations in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas most of which would no longer exist by the time the next directory was published in 1866.
Starting in 1881 the firm of Morrison & Fourmy’s began publishing their Galveston city directory which not only contained listing for the citizens of that gem set in a slightly less sparkling sea but also contained a synopsis of business pursuits and progress, the present state, county and city governments, an index of all societies, associations, corporations, churches, educational institutes and A COMPLETE CLASSIFIED BUSINESS DIRECTORY. In 1884 Galveston had a population estimated at about 37,000 people and the directory accounted for about 12,000 of them – including Margaret Edythe Young’s family – and the businesses they were engaged in and the businesses they traded with.Among the useful information included in the directory is a geography of the city. Although the corporate limits of the city extended to 56th street in the 1880’s the urban part of the island effectively ended about 40th street – west of that were cemeteries, farms and swamps and bogs. The high point of the island was less than 8 feet above sea level at high tide and the streets were so often awash that we are surprised some enterprising soul didn’t rename the place Venice – after all an entrepreneur named one of the railroad stops between Houston and Galveston, Genoa, because the hotel, five houses and a post office, “reminded” him of Genoa, Italy [the current location of the Italianate paradise is just east of where Fuqua Street crosses Highway 3] – and the directory contained both a map and a gazetteer of the island and we have included the street and avenue directory below for reference throughout these posts .
Although we will not be using these posts to explore individuals something of the detail offered by the directories is useful in understanding exactly how much detail can be extracted from them. While the census gives name, address, familial details and a host of information it is conducted only once every decade. David Adams is in the 1860 census but being among those lost for the cause he is not in the 1870 census. The value of the directories is that they help you find people between censuses and not only track their movement – from New Orleans to Galveston in the case of the Adams family – but also their movement within the work force – from laborer to screwman to stevedore in the case of John Young. An example of some of the detail offered comes from the first page of listings in the directory reproduced below.
Looking at these listings we find out that both Charles and George Abbott were employed as clerks and lived with their widowed mother who resided on the south side of East Avenue N [15th] between 20th and 21st Streets. We have a laborer who boards at the Olive Branch Hotel, a waiter who lives at the Girardin House where he works and a cook at the Epicurean restaurant who lives on Post Office [Avenue E]. Going through the directories you begin to develop a very detailed picture of the sociology of the island. Using it as a starting point you might find out that Mrs. Abbott was the widow of Charles L. Abbott who had served the republicans in the reconstruction legislature and who had been run out the Texas House of Representatives and the town of Hempstead once the armed occupation of Texas ended and a semblance of democracy restored.
There is a small banner advertisement for an Apothecary and Druggist at the bottom of the page and like most directories this one was paid for and made profitable by advertising – the $3.00 charge for the directory itself may have covered printing and distribution but the profits were in the ads. The ability to categorize people and places in a historical and cultural context seems to depend in so many ways on what the people do. In the western tradition we might think of the Greeks in terms of philosophy and conquest, of the Romans in terms of civil engineering and law, of medieval Europe in terms of Christianity and of the renaissance in terms of art and exploration. From a strictly objective point of view the 19th, 20th and – so far – the 21st centuries may be defined as the age of consumption. Never before have so many goods and services been available and never before have so many people been engaged so completely in the getting and spending of money on those goods and services.
In this series of posts we are going to start with Margaret Edythe Young’s year of birth, 1884, and go to her year of passing, 1920, and at quadrennial intervals examine the larger advertisements placed in the directories in an effort to see what goods and services were being offered and how they were changing. Our study makes no pretension to being comprehensive or even balanced and is far more an effort to give the savor than the recipe and we hope you enjoy our effort.