City Directories FAQ


How do I view the city directories?

You need to have Adobe Reader or other PDF-aware software loaded on your computer – all electronic versions of the directories will be in a searchable PDF format.

Can I print directory pages?

Yes you can print directory pages for your own use.

Why are some years of the directory not available or not available remotely?

We intend to scan every directory in the library’s collection, legal issues and physical condition allowing; there are gaps in our collection. Only directories that are out of copyright or that we have been granted permission by the publisher to provide remotely will be available without coming into the library. This is an ongoing project and we don’t have a definite completion date.

What are “City Directories”

“City Directory” is a generic term used for pre-telephone (and post-telephone) books that provided a comprehensive listing of people, businesses and addresses in a particular town. Every inch not devoted to listings was sold to advertisers. The listings include items such as:

  • An alphabetical listing of people in the town
  • A listing of street addresses (often called the “Householders” section), and
  • A classified business section

The directories often also included “extras” that changed with each edition. Some extras that can be found in these directories are:

  • Rural mail delivery route maps
  • Lists of county and state officials
  • Churches
  • Fraternal organizations
  • Labor unions
  • Marriage status (widows were often noted as such), and
  • The name and address of an individual’s employer

These directories were usually published annually. After a few years, the publisher would often change (at least in the Fullerton area). And the directories were almost always copyrighted. Polk Directories are the most recognizable, because Polk published such a large number of directories. Genealogists will often call any city directory a “Polk,” because they are so well-known.

You can probably imagine how many uses this information can be put to today. Commercial interests use the city directories for company histories (including when and where a company was located in town), researching environmental impact reports, and environmental law suits. Fullerton’s citizens also make good use of the city directories. Genealogists love the amount of personal information in the directories, and homeowners can create a house biography, listing every occupant of their house. We are finding new uses for this valuable resource all the time.

The Local History Room collection of city directories runs from 1899 to the present, but the project will focus on the years from 1899 to 1980. Because the directories are so popular with researchers, they are at great risk from overuse. We are indeed fortunate that with the Library Foundation’s generosity we can take advantage of technology to expand access to researchers across the globe, while providing security and preservation for the originals.

For Further Information

The Local History Room is open new hours: Monday 10-5 & 6-9, Tuesday – Friday 10-5, First Saturday of the month 10-2. Please call 714-738-6342. The room is located on the fourth floor (mezzanine level) of Fullerton’s main library.

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