How do you want me to alphabetize this?

Elihu Geer is best known in Connecticut as a printer and publisher, in particular of various city directories. He evidently employed individuals to help extract or transcribe data and then alphabetize the names. Evidently there was a difference of opinion about how one alphabetized names when they were transcribed.

Charles W. Bradley of New Haven (former Secretary of the State for Connecticut) wrote to Geer in November 1848:

What does Col. Geer mean by the term “alphabetical order”? The law requires that the returns should be made to you in that manner; and so far as the single initial letter is concerned (and so far only), they are so made.–Now I am not certain whether, in your estimation and purpose, this simple initial-letter arrangement is sufficient. If it be, –and I see no great reason why it will not answer, — it will not take more than one-third the time which would be required for such an entire alphabetic arrangement as would be looked for in a dictionary, and as you have pursued in your “Directory.” I, however, exercised my judgement in the matter, and commenced copying returns in the same initial-letter order with the original papers, so that Crane, Clark, Curtiss, Book, Cady, Cook, Clark, Curtis, Canfield, etc. perhaps appears in the consecutive series. This is certainly inconvenient in looking for any given name in the copy; but if you have occasion to test the correctness of that copy by the original, it will then be of advantage, since they will be found to agree in locality, page for page and line for line.

How I wish we had Geer’s response. In my experience, some early town or city directories have names arranged by the initial letter only, not in what we today (and librarians especially) consider alphabetical order. The more basic question is, what was being transcribed, and for what purpose? We always seem to get more questions than answers.


C.W. Bradley asks printer and publisher Elihu Geer exactly what he meant by “alphabetize” in this 1848 letter. Ms 101710

Bradley also asks in the letter if there is a strict deadline for the work he is doing because he has been offered a short stint that pays more than Geer can. Ms 101710


If you do a search in our online catalog for Elihu Geer as an author, there are 27 items listed. These items are documents or books he either published or created himself, including letters like this one. Please visit the Research Center to learn more about Elihu Geer. You may also find more of his papers at Yale, described in the finding aid at