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Michigan City Directories and Gazetteers

 City Directories are helpful in placing your ancestor in a specific location in a particular year. Use that information to expand your search and seek out other local records that may have been created while your ancestor lived there.  They are helpful for filling in the years between federal censuses.


Very similar to a phone book, but more detailed:

  • In addition to head of household, entries often include other family members, as well.
  • Provides exact street addresses
  • Lists occupations
  • Indicates home ownership versus renting
  • Includes yellow pages-type business listings

Access Points

Polk Directories:

  • Surname
    • These entries include occupation, other household members, ownership status
  • Street name
    • Streets are listed alphabetically, and then residents and businesses are listed in house number order
    • Also indicates homeowner versus renter
  • Phone number
    • Listed in numerical order
    • Only head of household listed
  • Classified Buyers’ Guide
    • Picture ads
    • Listings, organized by business type, and then alphabetical by business name

Bresser’s Directories (aka criss-cross or cross directories):

  • Street name
    • Streets are listed alphabetically, and then residents and businesses are listed in house number order
    • Lists heads of household only, no other residents
    • Includes phone numbers
    • Notations for home owner versus renter
    • Indicates year first listed at address
    • Notes new arrivals to the geographic area, and relocation to new addresses within the geographic area
  • Building Directory (when applicable)
    • Alphabetical listing of major office buildings, including list of tenants
  • Phone number
    • Lists homeowners and business names & street addresses affiliated with that number
    • Notes if new to the address or to the directory

Differences between Polk & Bresser Directories

  • Only Polk Directories includes name listings
  • Polk Directories include holdings back to late 1800’s; Bresser’s only back to late 1960’s
  • Bresser Directories are often listed as county directories
  • Polk Directories sometimes include suburban coverage as well as the title city
  • Our city directory collection includes several other publishers, too. Most are organized similarly to Polk directories.  Here are some of those other publishers:
    • Robinson’s
    • Norton’s
    • Johnson Publishing
    • W.C. Bailey
    • Luedder

Finding Directories in the Library of Michigan

The Library of Michigan has city directories in three formats:

  • Print
    • Shelved on the 2nd Floor South, in alphabetical order by city or county name.
    • Some are housed in our Rare Book Room, in call number order.
  • Microfilm/fiche
    • Shelved on the 2nd Floor South in the Microfilm Room, in call number order.
  • Online
    • Available through Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest

Our print collection is easily browsed; it is arranged alphabetically by city or county name.  Print and microfilm directories can be identified in ANSWER.  A useful search format is:

  • [city name] city directory
  • Use to identify those in Rare or on microfilm or microfiche.

State Gazetteers and Business Directories

Michigan State Gazetteers and Business Directories are a lot like city directories except that they only include entries for businesses and business/professional people, and a single volume covers the whole state, rather than a specific locale.  They include extensive advertisement sections.  Organized alphabetically by city name, with a narrative about the city, detailing geographic points and key demographic facts about the place.  Some important points about the Library of Michigan’s holdings:

  • Intermittent holdings spanning the mid 1860’s through 1931/32.
  • Many shelved on the 2nd Floor North at HC107.M5.S752z [year]
  • Some holding on microfilm and in the Rare Book Room

Updated 01/16/2019