Monday, July 18, 2016

Monday Mailbox: City Directories and Newspaper Gaps

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Insider,

I am frequently frustrated by egregious gaps in's online  standard reference materials. The most recent case was the 1949 city directory for New Orleans, Louisiana. The online directory ends in the "P" section. The filmstrip has a final page: See Next Filmstrip for Part Two.

So why doesn't ancestry have Part Two? Or, for that matter, the New Orleans City Directories for 1950, 1951, and 1952? These books are easily obtainable, but the reason I subscribe to Ancestry is to have access to these resources at my desk.  I also find it maddening that Ancestry does not acknowledge these gaps, or have a simple way to report a problem. I have just spent 30 minutes searching for a way to email about the New Orleans city directory gap and asking that they fill it.

And further: These unheralded, unexplained gaps are also a problem with online newspaper databanks. I often find huge lapses of 10 to 30 years. I have contacted but receive no explanation other than a wan, "We regret that you were inconvenienced," kind of non-answer.

Thanks v. much for your answer & the light you regularly shed on the genealogy world,

Harriet Swift

Dear Harriet,

Thank you for your kind comment.

Ancestry and work at scales with city directories and newspapers that don’t allow for attention to individual or small runs of issues. The cheapest way for a company like Ancestry to enter the City Directory or Newspaper market is to buy large, existing collections of microfilm or digital images. For example, Ancestry notes its copies of The Atlanta Constitution were scanned from microfilm. Peter Drinkwater, product manager, says that all the historic newspapers being added to are from microfilm.

I don’t know if Ancestry or has ever disclosed its sources, but ProQuest's microfilm newspaper collection, NewsBank’s microfilm newspaper collection, and Gale’s city directory microfilm collection are all potential sources. There are also large collections of digital images from some of these companies and others like

These companies, in turn, have to work at large scales. They usually microfilm or digitize at institutions having large physical collections. When such institutions lack particular issues, those become gaps in their collections. It’s too expensive to track down missing issues, move equipment all over the country, and separate needed issues from duplicate issues. The holes in these collections, in turn, become the holes in Ancestry’s and’s collections.

Ancestry is still adding to their city directory collection, so there is a chance they can fill in the gaps you need. It won’t do much good if you own the missing directory. “We don’t typically accept customer donations unless it is a substantial number of directories,” says Matthew Deighton, Ancestry spokesperson. Harriet, you mention that you know where to find the missing directories. If the owning institution has a large collection, perhaps they could be persuaded to lend their collection to Ancestry. I think Ancestry prefers an all-out gift, because they prefer to cut the spines off the directories. They can then be fed through high-speed, sheet-fed scanners. This is cheaper, faster, and provides better images. But don’t worry about rare directories. Matthew assures me, “We [Ancestry] only cut the spine on books where other copies exist.”

My guess is that Ancestry and don’t go out of their way to solicit information about missing issues because they can’t usually do much about it. However, Ancestry spokesperson, Matthew Deighton says, “Send in a suggestion identifying the missing content and we will see what we can do to fill it.” You can send messages to Ancestry at You can call them using the numbers on their phone support page. The previous option,, returns an automated message directing you to the support page. For, select “Contact” at the bottom of their website.

---The Ancestry Insider


  1. Do you know when FTDNA will accept uploads from Ancestry Chip v2?

  2. Just another example of the greed of ancestry. Charge a fortune and give their customers little. They want content for free! Well so do we, but we have to pay $100s if we want subscriptions. It takes WORK to earn our subscriptions and all ancestry does is take databases and make them private monopolies.

  3. I've been doing research in a very localized area. I can confidently state that if the newspapers were not available for microfilming, the chances of finding more issues are slim. For instance, I know that the newspaper I'm most interested in published until at least 1923, but there are no issues filmed, or in local collections, after 1912. I dream of being invited to clean out someone's attic, and there they'll be!


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