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Using Almanacs as Genealogical Sources
By Gena Philibert Ortega


When most people hear the word “almanac,” they think of The Old Farmer’s Almanac with its weather reports and advice on when to plant vegetables. But all types of almanacs are available that provide information on diverse subjects. According to the website Atlantic Cape Community College, an almanac is “a publication, usually an annual, containing useful facts and statistical information.” Almanacs from churches, regions, organizations and fraternal orders all hold information that can be useful to the genealogist. Information can include listings of people associated with the organization as well as address listings for businesses, churches and post office directories. These are a source that not only lists individual names, but also historical context for your ancestor’s life.


So where are almanacs available and where can a genealogist find them? You can start with a search on the Internet in places that house digitized books, like Google Books and Internet Archive.


A few examples found on those two sites include:


In the Canadian Almanac and Directory (1893) found on Internet Archive, there is a listing of post offices that can provide you with gazetteer-like information to see what places may have existed that do not anymore.


Google Books houses the National Temperance Almanac and Teetotaler’s Yearbook for 1900. This almanac includes statistical information related to temperance as well as the names of those involved in the temperance movement, including ministers and members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the American Anti-Saloon League, Royal Templars of Temperance and others. There is also a section that explains laws relating to temperance in each of the states. As with many sources, this publication steers you to additional potential sources in the form of the names of other temperance periodicals. One of my favorite sections details the position of various churches on the issue of temperance. This almanac is a great one for giving you some historical information for a cause that could have been embraced by your ancestor.


The Boston Almanac and Business Directory for the year 1872 has some surprising genealogical information. A calendar of events found in the beginning pages includes listings of deaths, accidents and historical happenings. Names of those holding federal, state and county and city offices are listed. City officials including those on school committees, police, firefighters, librarians, and overseers of the poor are also listed. A city directory of sorts that includes the addresses of businesses by type can be helpful to the genealogist trying to find whether a business existed during this time period. The business directory is a part of this almanac and begins on page 113.


Once you check out websites, continue your search through repositories like libraries and archives. You can do this by searching on individual catalogs or searching a union catalog like WorldCat (more on that below).


The University of Wisconsin Special Collections has a collection of almanacs. While these are not digitized, they do provide you with a list of what’s available. Check out the list, and if there is one that might be helpful to your research, you can email a librarian and ask them how you can access the collection.


The New York State Library has over 10,000 almanacs published from 1684 to the present day, including those from newspapers, religions, those promoting causes including temperance, those written for a specific region, political parties and more.


One book that may help you find other almanacs is A List of New York Almanacs 1694-1850 compiled by Alexander J Wall found on Google Books. According to its preface, this work is an effort to list almanacs in the possession of libraries and private collections. Collections surveyed include that of the New York Public Library, New York Historical Society, New York State Library, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Western Reserve Historical Society, Library of Congress, American Antiquarian Society and the private collection of Henry E. Huntington (now the Huntington Library). This is an older publication, so if you find an almanac that you are interested in, verify with the listed institution that they still have the almanac in their collection.


WorldCat is a fabulous resource for finding materials in libraries around the world. WorldCat is a website of library catalogs with over 1.5 billion items. You can also use it to find additional almanac collections. Try searching using a keyword, just as you would with any library catalog. Keywords to try include “church almanac” (or the name of your church and the word almanac) “temperance almanac” or look for almanacs for your locality by typing in the name of a state or region and the word almanac. You can also search by a subject heading like “su: Almanacs, American” (don’t use the quote marks).


Other places to look for almanacs would include your state library, NUCMC and other archives and libraries.


Almanacs can provide you with the historical context needed to better understand the place or activities that your ancestor was a part of. While not often seen as a genealogical source, almanacs can hold the rich details needed to bring depth to your ancestor’s life. And in some cases, they may even provide an additional place to look for your ancestor.


***Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Madaleine Laird for providing links to almanac collections and the idea for this article.


Gena Philibert Ortega is the newsletter editor for World Vital Records. She holds a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (Psychology and Women’s Studies) and a Master’s degree in Religion. Presenting on various subjects involving genealogy, Gena has spoken to groups throughout California and in Utah as well as virtually to audiences in the United States and Europe. Gena is the author of over 100 articles. Her writings can also be found on her blog, Gena’s Genealogy. She is the author of the book, the Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra (Arcadia Publishing, 2007). Gena serves as Vice-President for the Southern California Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. She is also a Regional Director for the California State Genealogical Alliance.