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01 December 2007

Steve Harris - Collector of City Directories & Phone Books

Sometimes the best reason to belong to your local genealogical society is the help you can get from fellow members. It can be as simple as the clarity achieved just by speaking a research problem out loud to a willing listener or being able to informally consult with members who have the expertise you lack and are willing to share their resources. But Dr. Stephen Harris took sharing to a whole new level when he made his collection of city directories and telephone books available to CGS members.

Steve, who has a doctorate in psychology from U.C. Berkeley, worked for the Contra Costa County health department and is now semi-retired. He is also a CGS member and professional genealogist whose interest in family history dates back to the Oakland hills fire of October 1991. When Steve lost his home he also lost all of the family documents that he inherited from his parents. He admits he hadn't paid much attention to them before but after they were destroyed he began to wonder if it was possible to replace them and to reconstruct the history of his family. Things just took off from there.

Steve started his collection when he rescued some old phone books that were being discarded by an archive. He has found that most libraries don't like them because they are so fragile and that while city directories have been extensively microfilmed, telephone books seldom are. His collection, which now numbers over 5000 volumes, dating from the mid 1850's to the 1960s, is housed in a space down the hall from CGS in the lower level of 2201 Broadway, Oakland.

Dr. Harris has generously granted CGS members access to his collection two days every month: the second Saturday and the third Friday. Members are to check in at the CGS desk first. From there they will be directed to Steve's library. Dr. Stephen Harris can be reached at

Photographs by Kathryn M. Doyle, 27 Apr 2007.