A story from NPR's blog, The Lost Village in New York City, about Seneca Village, describes how historians have been unable to trace any of the descendants of the people who lived there. Anthropologists Diana Wall, Nan Rothschild, and Cynthia Copeland of the Seneca Village Project want to hear from "anyone who has heard family stories or has other reasons to believe that he or she is a descendant of residents of Seneca Village": see the post for contact details. One of the commenters, below the article, asks that they be provided with the names of the residents of the village, so that they might do some research of their own. A great place to start researching Seneca Village is here at the Library.
Map of the lands included in the Central Park, from a topographical survey, June 17th, 1856; [Also:] Plan for the improvement of the Central Park, adopted by the Commissioners, June 3rd, 1856. Image ID: 1697276
Searching for descendants of the people who lived in Seneca Village would perhaps make a great crowd sourcing project, one that utilizes the skills of thousands of genealogists and family historians out there, especially those with African-American or Irish ancestry. Could the historians benefit from the skills of amateur researchers in the way that astronomers and paleontologists have? Maybe! Perhaps you have been researching your family history and have already traced a link, but did not yet know?
Solving this puzzle is difficult, to say the least, but the records are out there, at least up to a point. A genealogy database like Ancestry Library Edition or HeritageQuest has censuses (state and federal) from 1790 through 1940, and city directories, amongst other things: NYPL provides free access to both databases. Family Search (free online) has lots of NY state and NYC records online, including New York Land Records, 1630-1975 (property deeds (a.k.a. conveyances) and mortgages, etc.), and the Municipal Archives has Real Estate Tax Assessment records on microfilm). The Map Division here at NYPL has, well, maps of Manhattan, and Central Park!
Obviously historians have already consulted these sources, but a second pair of eyes never did any harm. And genealogists do like a challenge! If you have research tips, suggestions, or stories, please post in the comments section of this blog post.
Maybe start with the property records? This page, from what is known as a Land Conveyance Grantor index, shows John and Elizabeth Whitehead selling land to various people and churches, land that would become Seneca Village. You can use the Liber and Page numbers to explore the Conveyances themselves.
Seneca Village in 1856, as interpreted and illustrated in a Topographical Survey for the Grounds of Central Park by Egbert Viele.