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Posts by Philip Sutton

Can You Help Find the Descendants of Seneca Village?

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."Read More ›

Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island (and One That Was)

Between 1892 and 1954, over twelve million people entered the United States through the immigration inspection station at Ellis Island, a small island located in the upper bay off the New Jersey coast. There is a myth that persists in the field of genealogy, or more accurately, in family lore, that family names were changed there. They were not. Numerous blogs, essays, and books have proven this. Yet the myth persists; a story in a recent issue of The New Yorker suggests that it happened. This post will explore how and why names were not changed. It will then tell the story of Frank 

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The Woolworth Building: The Cathedral of Commerce

April 24th sees the one hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Woolworth Building, at 233 Broadway. In 1913 the Woolworth Building was the tallest inhabited building in the world, and would remain so until the opening of the Chrysler Building, in 1929. The Milstein Division's collections include a series of photographs, taken by the photographer Irving Underhill, that chart the building's construction. This post looks at those photographs, and at the man who commissioned the building's construction, Frank W. Woolworth, and its architect, Cass Gilbert.

The term 

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Direct Me NYC 1786: A History of City Directories in the United States and New York City

Before the telephone directory, there was the city directory, a book that listed the names, addresses, professions, and in some cases ethnicity, of people in a particular town or city. Many of these directories have been digitized for your 

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1940: What's Going On

Released April 2, 2012 by the National Archives, the Sixteenth United States Federal Census is an exciting and important document. It describes the lives of Americans caught between two cataclysmic events in the country's history. When the 1940 census was taken, the nation was still in the throes of the Great Depression, with 14.6 percent of the population out of work, but not yet caught up in the Second World War, a soon to be global conflagration that was, ironically, to put an end to years of economic hardship. Using The New 

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Who Lived In a House Like This? A Brief Guide to Researching the History of Your NYC Home

The Library's Milstein Division is home to one of the largest free United States history, local history, and genealogy collections in the country, and many of our patrons are writing their family histories. Many reference questions pertain to building histories, especially in the light of genealogy. Afterall, those ancesters lived somewhere, and it's natural to wonder what it was like where they lived.

Sometimes patrons are curious about the buildings they live in, when the buildings were built, and by whom. They might wonder, "Who lived in my apartment 

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New York City Land Conveyances 1654-1851: What They Are and How They Work

On microfilm, in olde worlde language, in undecipherable hand writing. Who cares? This is digitized, right? Yes, sometimes, often, and not yet. Being a librarian, I spend a lot of time rummaging through old documents, seemingly dull and indecipherable tracts that often prove to be invaluable sources of the good stuff. Land conveyances are just such a document. The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society recently donated to the New York Public Library's 

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Maury and the Menu: A Brief History of the Cunard Steamship Company

In 1907 the Cunard Steamship Company launched the first of their Express Liners, the Lusitania and the

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A Look at "The Book": The Fall and Rise of the Telephone Directory

It can't have escaped your attention that there has been a lot of talk recently about the imminent demise of the book, at least the print version. But what about the book? Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have this year reported that the White Pages may soon be discontinued. This is perhaps understandable. How many copies of this book currently lie abandoned in a cupboard or drawer, 

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