Society Blue Books
Updated: Jun 1
Recently, a friend introduced me to the Blue Book, a society Who’s Who guide. Several editions from the early 1900’s for the Toronto area have been digitized and can be consulted by anyone via the Toronto Public Library Digital Archive.
The Toronto area books were first published by Wm. Tyrell & Co., and later taken over by the Dau Publishing company. The digitized books on the library site span between 1902 and 1921, with gaps. Some refer to the Toronto area, others also cover Hamilton and London, Ontario.
Why the books were created in the first place is best explained by this information from the Preface of the 1910 edition:
“We do not claim the BLUE BOOK is either a City Directory or absolutely an Elite Directory; neither do we pretend to pass upon the social or financial standing of the parties whose names are contained therein. It is simply a compilation of about four thousand names of the most prominent householders of Toronto, Hamilton and London, and numerous smaller towns, published in the most convenient form for reference by our lady patrons. The title “BLUE BOOK” is given the work because of its blue cover. It does not refer to blue blood, as many people suppose…. The data for this work have not been compiled from circulars or from other directories. Experienced men, particularly adapted for such work, have been assigned to each locality, and the greatest care has been used in selecting these names.”
What might be learned from these books, if you are lucky enough to have an ancestor listed in one?
-Names (sometimes including middle name)
-names of children living in the household over the age of 16
-receiving day for company
The Society Blue Book of Toronto and Hamilton (New York: Dau Publishing Co.,1911), p. 90, entry for “McBrady, Mr. and Mrs. Louis V.”; digital image, Toronto Public Library (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca : accessed 25 Oct 2017).
For example, the images show that Mr. and Mrs. Louis V. McBrady lived at 86 Charles Street West in Toronto. Mrs. McBrady’s first name wasn’t given, but her maiden name was Small. Their only child over the age of sixteen, and thus eligible to be listed was Beatrice McBrady. Louis belonged to two clubs #41 (the Liberal Club) and #112 (The Ontario Club). No clubs were listed for Mrs. McBrady, who received guests in her home on the first Friday of the month.
The genealogical applications are immediately evident. Maiden names can sometimes be difficult to learn, but here they are freely listed. When a family of interest is located in the 1901, 1911 or 1921 Canadian censuses in the Toronto area, the family unit can be compared to the listing in the Blue Book to provide evidence of a maiden name for the mother. When comparing the books year over year, when children first appear listed alongside their parents, their birth year can be estimated, as we know they must be at least sixteen to appear in the book. The listing of clubs can lead to clues about an ancestor’s interests, politics and associates.
Although these books claimed not to judge on social and financial standing, obviously the reality was that they did just that. When meeting someone new, no doubt the first task for many was to check them out in the Blue Book. Returning to the example above, Mr. Louis V. McBrady was a prominent Toronto lawyer and he and his wife were featured in many early issues of the Blue Book. However, in 1918 he was arrested for defrauding clients, and received a sixty-day jail sentence.  The McBrady's do not appear in the 1920 or 1921 Blue Book issues. Possibly this was mere coincidence, but since they were still living in Toronto, it may also have been a sign of social stigma after the scandal.
 The Society Blue Book of Toronto and Hamilton (Toronto: Dau Publishing Co.,1909), unpaginated preface; digital image, Toronto Public Library (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca : accessed 25 Oct 2017).
 “Lawyer gets jail term,” The Toronto Star, 4 April 1918, p. 12, col 4, Web Edition (http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/thestar/advancedsearch.html : accessed 18 May 2015).