Who lived in my house? Find past residents in Portland city directories

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City directories are great tools for finding out who lived at a specific address in the past. Learn how to use city directories to find out who lived in houses that were within Portland city limits when they were built. If your house is in Gresham or in unincorporated Multnomah County, read more about using city directories for those communities.

Historical Portland city directories on a bookshelf at Central Library.

City directories are like telephone books, except that they began publishing long before telephones were available. The first Portland city directory was published by the S. J. McCormick company, in 1863. 

Most Portland city directories have several sections: 

  • A list of residents and businesses, arranged alphabetically by name (like a phone book)
  • A classified business directory, listing companies by type (barbers, lumbermills, attorneys, dairies, etc.)
  • A government and organizations section listing public agencies, churches, schools and community organizations


Portland city directories published 1930 and later each have a “reverse” section arranged by address instead of by name. In most years, this “Street and Avenue Guide” section is printed on pink or green paper. To use it, find your street, then your block and then your address. You’ll see an abbreviated listing telling you who (or what) was located at that address during the year the city directory covers. 

Close-up of a list of residents and businesses in Portland from the 1938 Portland city directory, arranged by address.

For more detail, look for the person (or business name) in the section that’s arranged alphabetically by name. In addition to a home address, many people’s listings state their job or occupation, and some include their employer’s name. If a person owns a business, that might be noted too.

Close-up of a list of residents and businesses in Portland from the 1938 Portland city directory arranged by name.

Here are some things you may see in the listings-by-name section: 

  • Most listings are for heads of household: often these are married men, widowed women, or single people.
  • The wife of a man who is a head of household is sometimes included in his listing, but usually only her first name is shown. Wives’ names are in parentheses after their husbands’ names.
  • Adult children living in their parents’ homes often have their own, separate listings.
  • Deceased husbands’ names are sometimes noted in a widow’s listing. Deceased husbands’ names are in parentheses after their wives’ names.
  • Domestic workers who live with their employers usually have their own listings, under their own names.

Tips for 1930-1933

The city of Portland completely revised its street address system during the early 1930s. Discover your house’s pre-1930s address.

To find your house in the 1930 or 1931 Portland city directory, look for its old address. If you look at the 1932 or 1933 directory, check both the old and new addresses, because some neighborhoods had their addresses changed earlier than others.

Tips for 1929 and earlier

Portland city directories published 1863-1929 don't have a section with listings by address. But there are still ways to find out who lived in your house during these years. 

  • Look for the names of your house's 1930 residents in directories from earlier years.
  • Check to see if the city issued plumbing or sewer permits when your house was built or modified. 

Plumbing or sewer permits

These sometimes list the owner's name. You may find early permits for your house in the city's property information database PortlandMaps. To check for digitized permits:

  1. Type in your address
  2. Select “Permits,” then “Historic permits" 

Portland's Bureau of Development Services has more complete historical permit records. Their website has a page about How to find public records with Development Services – scroll down to the “Building permit records” section for more details.

Dig a little deeper

If you can’t find all of your house’s past residents using Portland city directories, try these suggestions for other creative ways to research who lived in your house