Let Your Fingers Do the Walking in Those Old Phone Books While Researching Delmarva

1962 directory for Cambridge

Since most people looking up a telephone number these days go directly to the mass media of the 21st century Google or some other search engine, those once essential phone directories are in danger of becoming a fading memory.  Verizon, having taken note of that growing trend, has proposed eliminating the routine delivery of the white pages while the company would continue printing the yellow pages, the Star Democrat recently reported.

We’ll grant Verizon that these handy information sources are quickly becoming obsolete for modern day usage, as it’s been a long time since we paged through a directory.  But they were once essential, the annual publications having recurring daily use and kept in an readily accessible place.  The books were published for over 100 years in the mid-Atlantic, Verizon spokesperson Stephanie Hodge told me a few years ago.  “From the very beginning someone always wanted to advertise in them.  The early ones were thing affairs but they spoke volumes about what was happening in every community on the Delmarva Peninsula.

While in this wired world their everyday value has faded, they are a noteworthy source for historical and genealogical information.  Such ordinary, everyday things as a phone directory, when it has been published annually for over a century, can be an essential tool to unearth historical and genealogical data.  Many research libraries in the region maintain collections of these titles to help patrons with their research questions and they’re something I often ask for when trying to figure out something out in a community. Once, decades ago, while do an investigation I talked with the “Clerk of the Phone Directories” at Verizon’s headquarters in Richmond, VA.  The clerk, apparently a holdover from the regulated history of telephony, managed the library of the directories that had been published by the telecommunications giant and its predecessors, such as Chesapeake and Potomac.  It’s hard to say as companies have streamlined and reorganized to create efficiencies what happened to that position and all those valuable sources of information.  But some research libraries in our region maintain collections of these titles.

1940 yellow pages for Dover, Delaware

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