Monday, November 24, 2014

City Directories Contain Pieces of Your Ancestor Puzzle

Twenty five years of experience has taught me many lessons when looking at family history records.  City directories are an example of a genealogical record that requires meticulous analysis.  On the surface, a city directory provides somewhat limited information about a family. City directory listings usually give the name, address and occupation of an individual.  Upon closer examination, you will see much more information in City Directories than you might expect.

For example, let’s use city directories to help piece together the puzzle of two of my ancestors.  The oral history passed down to me by my grandmother and grand aunt was that their mother, Mae Blanche Moss 1882-1963 and her mother Anne B. Lanstein Moss 1860-1922 lived in Sacramento in the 1890s.  There is a women named Annie that is listed in the Sacramento City Directory in the 1890s.  This could be my ancestor but I have not yet found any other records that would definitively corroborate that it is her.  If I could have found Annie and Mae residing at the same address that would have been more definitive but alas it is not to be at least for now.  I keep looking for more evidence.

Annie Moss in 1895 Sacramento City Directory

Mrs. Annie B. Moss in 1896 Sacramento City Directory
Mrs. Annie Moss in 1898 Sacramento City Directory

My grandmother and her sister also told me that Annie and Mae were living in San Francisco together during the 1906 Earthquake.  Mae had been working for Mr. C.L. Goetting in a fancy fruit and vegetable market as a cashier.  When the earthquake struck they had to evacuate their lodging near the current site of the Fairmount hotel  on Mason and California Street.  Mae was able to get a gentleman to help her carry her trunk up California Street.  Mother and daughter made their way to Golden Gate Park.  Eventually they were rescued by Mae’s fianc√©, Ernest Coffman and taken to live with his aunt, Viola Coffman Hughes in Oakland.

 One way to verify that claim is to look her up in the City Directories of San Francisco.  In the 1900 San Francisco City Directory we find:
                Moss, Anne widow, r. 7 Liberty
Moss, Mary A. Miss, dressmaker, r. 7 Liberty

This seems very promising!  It is always wise however to continue to scan the listings for the surname to see if there are any others listed at the same address.  If we look a little closer we see:
Moss, William P., bookkeeper, r. 7 Liberty

Anne Moss & Mary Moss at 7 Liberty Street in 1900 San Francisco City Directory

Since Mary A. Moss is listed as a “Miss” it is clear that she is an unmarried woman.   It is very common to see widows enumerated in City Directories with their children in the same household.  We do not know for sure but we can theorize that Mary A. and William P. Moss are the children of the widow, Ann Moss. 

At first I thought these might be my people.  My great grandmother, Mae Blanche Moss was always a good seamstress but she worked as a cashier for most of her working life.  Is it possible that she tried her hand at dressmaking before settling in as a cashier?  Her name was Mae not Mary.  Her middle initial was “B” not “A”.  But it was awfully close to our family story.  Did Grandma Mae have a brother?  Why didn’t my grandmother and her sister mention him?  [SOURCE: 1900 Crocker-Langley Directory of San Francisco, page 1254 accessed on ]

I conducted an exhaustive search of the 1900 census to try to find this family.  I found the enumeration district of the census that includes the address 7 Liberty.  I searched all of the names on Liberty Street.  I found a listing for 9 Liberty Street but nothing for 7 Liberty.

The 1901 and 1902 directories of San Francisco are not available at 
In the 1903 Crocker-Langley Directory of San Francisco we find Miss Moss, the dressmaker is May not Mary.  That seems even more promising!

Moss, May A. Miss, dressmkg. 139 Post, r. 459 Guerrero
But her family is listed differently:
                Moss, Bridget, widow. r . 459 Guerrero
                Moss, Patrick W. r. 459 Guerrero

In the 1904 City Directory we can’t find Mary/May but we do find the following listings:
                Moss, Bridget widow, r 459 Guerrero
William P, tilesetter, r 459 Guerrero

Comparing 1900 with 1903 and 1904 directory listings we see variations in the names.  The dressmaker is seen in 1900 as Mary A. and in 1903 she is May A.  The widow Moss is first listed as Ann but later listed as Bridget.  The first listing for the presumed son is William P., the second listing is Patrick W. and the third listing is William P.

We found Bridget and William P. in the 1910 census with a new addition to the family.  William was again working as a tile setter which helps to confirm that this is indeed the same family.  The census listing follows:

1910 United States Federal Census about William P Moss
Name:  William P Moss
Age in 1910:        31
Birth Year:           abt 1879
Birthplace:          California
Home in 1910:   192 Douglas Street, San Francisco Assembly District 34, San Francisco, California
Race:     White
Gender:               Male
Relation to Head of House:          Son
Marital Status:   Single
Father's Birthplace:         Ireland
Mother's name:               Bridget A Moss
Mother's Birthplace:       Ireland

Household Members:   
Name    Age   Relation
Bridget A Moss 60  Head
William P Moss  31  Son
Margaret Moss 4  Granddaughter

Bridget is shown with a middle initial “A” which helps to tie the family together.  Most likely her full name was Bridget Anne Moss.  It is very common to see first names and middle names used interchangeably in genealogy records.

The census does show that William P. was indeed her son.  His full name is most likely, William Patrick Moss as we have seen with the names William and Patrick used interchangeably in the records.

However now that we know that Bridget Ann Moss was born in Ireland and that she had a son, William Patrick Moss born 1879 in California, it appears fairly certain that this is not my family.  Annie Lanstein Moss and her daughter, Mae Blanche Moss came to California in 1890.  There is nothing in our oral tradition about a brother nor is there anything about Irish heritage on the Moss line.  There is enough variation in the names to make it difficult to make these puzzles pieces fit together properly.

This analysis shows that genealogical research can be very painstaking work.  Sometimes you spend a lot of time analyzing records that don’t belong to your ancestors.  This can be very frustrating to those who prefer instant results.  However, this meticulous analysis is required to insure that we thoroughly prove that a record belongs to a particular ancestor.

So why are Mae Moss and her mother, Annie not showing up in the San Francisco City directory prior to the 1906 earthquake?   The story about Mr. Goetting seems to fit as there are plenty of records that show that he and his fruit and vegetable market did actually reside in the California Market.   Is it possible that Mae had another name?  She married Ernest Coffman in Oakland on the 5th of February 1907 and the marriage record lists her as Mae Moss, resident of San Francisco.  Perhaps she had only recently arrived in San Francisco.   The mystery remains unsolved after 25 years of diligent effort.  Stay tuned for more episodes of this story.

California Market was a grand shopping market with meats, produce and groceries for the citizens of San Franciso. California Market covered an entire city block from Pine to California, between Montgomery and Kearny. Omey and Goetting offered domestic and tropical fruits and produce from Stalls 28, 29, 30, 67, 68, and 69 according to an advertisement appearing in the Council Cook Book dated January 1, 1909 and published by the San Francisco Section of the National Council of Jewish Women. This book was found on Google Books Extracted 3 Nov 2014

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