During the nineteenth century, America’s sleepy towns were transformed into bustling cities. Like many other municipalities, Trenton, New Jersey, changed from a single, close-knit community, where everyone knew each other and everything was in easy walking distance, to a larger entity, with multiple residential neighborhoods surrounding a commercial city center. Trenton had become a city of strangers and street trollies. Now too large for everyone to know each other personally, a new mechanism was needed to help people find each other; the solution was the city directory. In its first appearance, in 1844, the directory was simply a listing of all the businesses in Trenton. When next published, in 1854, it also contained a listing of all Trenton’s households. After editions in 1857 and 1859, there was a hiatus while the Civil War raged. Publication resumed in 1865 and continued on an annual/biennial basis (with another gap from 1939 to 1945) until the final edition, in 1971. Six complete & one partial directories are currently available in a searchable, electronic format:
These directories were scanned and converted to text using optical character recognition (OCR). Special thanks to the Trenton Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy “Trentoniana” Section. (https://www.trentonlib.org/trentoniana).
The Trenton Historical Society is offering searches of Trenton City Directories, one name for a 10-year period for $10 per name. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope; a check made out to the Trenton Historical Society; and a note with the name & ten-year time period to:
Trenton Historical Society
P.O. Box 1112
Trenton, NJ 08606
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“My mind easily goes back to ’79, ’80, ’81 and ’82, [that’s 1879, 1880, 1881 & 1882] for in those particular years, not yet being steadily employed at reporting, I was glad to be taken on the Directory force each Spring. . . . The second of April would see a staff of canvassers spread like a net over the city in a house-to-house quest of names. We waited until after April 1, because the custom used to be to have all the movings on the date named, and we wished to find families settled in their new quarters before enrolling them. . . . After about 10 days spent in canvassing the city, the work of compilation began at Mr. Fitzgerald’s home. Half a dozen of the canvassers were retained for this job, which required care and special intelligence. The names had to be sorted alphabetically, the sifting being carried through not only the initial letter of each family name, but down to the last letter, and then to the Christian name. The same practice is still continued. Each name with occupation of the person and house address occupied a separate strip of paper, and according as they were placed in alphabetical order, the slips were pasted on a long sheet for the convenience of the printer.”
—Trenton Sunday Times Advertiser, Page 8, September 11, 1927