This installment of the Photograph Collection will be a wee bit different. I thought it might be kind of cool to tell you about how lucky historians and genealogists can be just by doing some research and having some good, old fashioned luck by being in the right place and the right time.
Several years ago, I was browsing through a local book store that specialized in antique books and manuscripts. Inside one of their "you can't even afford to look in here" display cases I saw something that I absolutely had to have no matter the cost. You see, anyone who's interested in local history, no matter where the locality is, should have a few copies of their town's City Directory.
For those who don't know, a City Directory is just like a phone book except it gives much more information about the people living in the city. It tells you their home address, work address, marital status, and occupation. It tells you all about the streets and businesses and provides colorful advertising for businesses that were active when the book was published. City Directories are a valuable tool for genealogists because they help place people they are researching in a particular area. They help determine next of kin and by having enough of them year by year, City Directories can help determine births, deaths and various movements of people.
So back to the display case. At first I didn't see the decrepit looking book sitting there on the top shelf of the case, but the words "Commercial Advertiser" caught my eye and forced me to look again. What I saw was a copy of an original Commercial Advertiser City Directory from 1860. After looking at this thing in disbelief, I asked the clerk "how much"? Let's just say that he didn't even finish saying $65 before I had it in my hands and was running out the door.
This was my first City Directory from pre-Civil War Buffalo and I was amazed at the content. The book had suffered from water damage but was certainly readable. It painted a marvelous picture of mid 19th century Buffalo! This was truly an incredible find.
One thing was very noticeable about this particular City Directory; the original owners of the book signed it! Right inside the front cover was an inscription that I had to peer over many times before I had it figured out. The signature read "Cooke & Lytle". That's it. It wasn't much to go on, and I had no idea what these two names meant. But I had a City Directory! Let's look them up!
The answer came on page 228. I looked up Cooke and found "Cooke, John, firm Cooke & Lytle, h. 30 Oak". What did this mean? The obvious part was the fact that the guy's name was John Cooke and he worked for the firm Cooke and Lytle. The "h" stands for "house" meaning that he owned one -- at 30 Oak Street.
On the very next line was another significant clue. "Cooke & Lytle, saddles and harness, 10 Exch." Now I had a pretty good idea who these two guys were. They made saddles and harnesses and their shop was at 10 Exchange Street. A saddle maker was a pretty significant trade back in the 1800s since most forms of transportation relied on horses. Um, except for the railroads and boats.
Next I looked on page 302 and found "Lytle, Chas. P clerk, 287 Main. b. 45 Oak" Well, this Lytle might be the man, but he served as a clerk for a business at 287 Main Street and he boarded at 45 Oak Street -- meaning he rented a room.
Next line down was what I was looking for. "Lytle, John S. firm Cooke & Lytle, h. 45 Oak." So now I knew that John Cooke's partner was John S. Lytle and he lived just down the street from his partner. I also knew that Mr. Lytle's brother or son lived with him at 45 Oak Street.
The best part of this story occurred several months later and quite by accident. The problem with doing research like this is that you almost get to know these people by finding out where and how they lived -- what they did for a living. However, you never get to see what they looked like. What did their homes look like? Where are they buried? Who are their next of kin in the late 20th century?
I was looking through some old scrap books at the Western New York Heritage Institute one evening trying to find some photographs of Buffalo's earliest railroad depots. Someone had donated an incredible collection of photographs and scrapbooks to the Institute and I was falling asleep going through each of these dusty volumes of useless information. Actually, it wasn't useless at all -- I was just tired of not finding what I was looking for.
Was I surprised when I turned to one particular page and saw a shriveled photograph of several old men standing around a store front. It was obviously a portrait for this old business, and I almost turned to the next page if it wasn't for the words that appeared on the sign in the picture. There in big, bold letters were the words "J.S. Lytle & Son"!
Never before had I experienced a feeling of pure satisfaction that I did at that moment. The entire mystery was solved. Charles Lytle was John S.'s son and here they were along with Mr. Cooke in front of their place of business at 10 Exchange Street. Of course I wondered why the sign didn't read "Cooke and Lytle", but who cared? I was looking into the eyes of the men whose saddle and harness shop my City Directory came from! It's almost as if I found the book's home.
To conclude, I'd like to introduce you to John Cooke, John S. Lytle and his son Charles, and the firm of Cooke & Lytle -- saddle and harness makers of 10 Exchange Street, Buffalo.