Who lived in your house?

With a few tricks of the trade and a Tacoma Public Library card you too can find out in a few minutes who lived at your address over the years and what they did for a living or if they had boarders, and you can do it from home on line. I found this trick while trying various ways to search the Polk City Directory (similar to the phone book but started before phones) I was using this trick on Ancestry.com for free until they realized that I was doing it and changed their program, if you research almost 600 homes they start to take notice. Luckily this also worked on HeritageQuest (the slimed down Ancestry) and the library has it on-line for home use, unlike Ancestry.

Okay enough with the forward, on to the trick:

  1. Pick up a Tacoma Public Library card its free if you don’t have one.
  2. Go to https://www.tacomalibrary.org/resources/local-history-genealogy/ The TPL’s     Northwest room genealogy page.
  3. Pan down the page to HeritageQuest and click on it
  4. Enter your Library Barcode. (library card number) and Log in
  5. Click “City Directories”
  6. This will bring up a search page and here you need to be very specific about your request. First under Location type “Tacoma, Pierce, Washington, USA” then under that click exact to this place. In the box “Any Event enter a year say “1925” then enter “Tacoma, Pierce, Washington, USA” in the space below and click “Exact to” just below. A box will come up and ask you the period of time you wish to search; I like to click +/- 5 years it limits’ the information to a manageable level.
  7. Under “Keywords” enter your house number, the street direction and your street name. ex. “3017 n 13th” for some reason more information causes problems, do not list ST. or Ave. it will tell you no information found. Then click “Exact”. If you have a house number that starts with a “1” sometimes if you can’t find your house drop the “1” and it comes up, perhaps it thinks it and lower case “L”. I leave everything blank.
  8. Then click “Search” (the orange box)
  9. If you filled in the form properly you should be greeted with a list of people and residence years with the title over the top of “All U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 results for (your address)”
  10. These are the individuals that lived in your home over the years and you can go back and edit the search, put in another ten year period and more show up.
  11. If you click “View Records” you can look at the actual page in the City Directory and see what these individuals did for living and the others in their home. Its highlighted in yellow but very faint.

Sorry I couldn’t print the page to show you directly it wouldn’t let me. There is a directory of abbreviations that you many need to understand the short hand noted within the directory, basics terms are (h) home, (r) renter or (b) for boarder but the work place may take a bit more effort “NPRY” is sometime the Northern Pacific Railway but these abbreviations change sometimes by year. Some of the very early directories like 1890 may list a home without an address and a short hand that might indicate things like the northeast corner of the intersection of 11th and Alder St. second property south. If you find one of these the Northwest Room at the TPL is very helpful in figuring out the code.

Recently I noticed the search engine is not being as exact as it once was and more random findings are showing up, hopefully this is just a momentary glitch.  U. S. Census information is also noted for additional reference as a search option in HeritageQuest. The Directories generally only showed information up to 1960 at this point. Good luck and happy hunting.


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