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Posts from the Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy

Play Strike! Exploring NYC Playgrounds Through Historical Newspapers

At the turn of the 20th century, children’s lifestyles were not quite what they are today. Child labor laws were not declared constitutional until 1938 and children largely socialized with their adult co-workers in dance halls, gambling dens, and gin mills. It was this children-as-adults culture that sparked the play movement, removing children from the “physical and moral dangers of the street” to playgrounds, under the direction of trained play leaders.Read More ›

How to Find Historical Photos of New York City

Researchers commonly seek photographs of places in New York as they once existed in history. HistoryPin.com and WhatWasThere.Com have done admirable work in placing historic photos in their geographic context, however they represent but a fraction of available photos, and associated descriptive metadata can vary in accuracy and precision.Read More ›

Peeling Off The Painted Layers of NYC Walls: Experiments With The Google Street View Archive

As a web developer who works on a screen and an illustrator that works on paper, I have always admired those who could paint big—often on impossibly large and inconveniently placed walls—only to be erased in a matter of weeks or days. The ephemeral nature of street art is what makes it simultaneously appealing and frustrating as a viewer. However, Google Maps recently rolled out a feature allowing users to go back in 

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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 ›

Our Favorite, Most Absorbing, Compelling, and Pleasurable [True!] Tales of New York City

The Milstein Division of United States History, Local History & Genealogy recommends our favorite, most readable, most memorable New York City nonfiction. These are the true stories of New York that engaged us, that intrigued us, and that we thought you might like to read as well.Read More ›

The Most Significant Drum Head in Popular Music, Part 2

Upon taking physical possession of the piece, my mind was set on two objectives. The first was to prove to myself that the drum head really was what it appeared to be. And number two, proving to the collecting world in general that this was, in fact, the Sullivan show drum head. Read More ›

Researching Orphans in Genealogy

If you have an orphan in your family tree, you may have to go through additional steps to find relevant genealogical records for the orphaned or adopted ancestor. Orphans originating in New York City are not uncommon because of the city's history with the Orphan Train movement.

From the 1850s to the 1920s, the Orphan Train Movement was an organized effort to transport children from overcrowded cities, such as New York City, to foster homes across the country. An estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, or 

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Classroom Connections: 'Two Wars,' African Americans, Emancipation, and the American Revolution (Gr. 6-8)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”—Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

The American Revolution symbolizes a critical moment in the history of the United States, and the Declaration of Independence is the key symbol of that moment. With its rhetoric of freedom and equality, the Declaration of Independence inspired the colonists to courageously fight for their rights. 

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Classroom Connections: 'Grace Aguilar's American Journey,' A Common Core-aligned Research Experience (Gr. 11-12)

By 1900, New York City and the United States were undergoing waves of dramatic, traumatic change. Industrialization, Reconstruction and a surge of immigrants from across the globe were remaking every aspect of life, from transportation to education, leisure, labor, race relations and the status of women. One response to the dislocations and turmoil of this era was the reform efforts that we now classify as the “Progressive Movement.”

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Classroom Connections: Lists for Lesson Planning (Gr. 6-12)

Aguilar Library, 1938 - Librarian w/ students. Want to know more about our current educational initiatives? See The ABC of Education: Why Libraries Matter by Maggie Jacobs, Director of Educational ProgramsWe have just shuttered the doors on our first Education Innovation @ NYPL Summer Institute. During this three week Institute, master teachers from NYC (and further afar) met curators from our Research 

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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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Not For Sale: The Iconic Brooklyn Bridge Celebrates 130 Years

For 130 years, the Brooklyn Bridge has been an icon of the New York City landscape—longer if you account for the 13 years required to construct it. This beloved connection between boroughs is still in use while many of its contemporaries have been replaced or dismantled worldwide.

When the bridge opened in 1883, New York was a different sort of town. Also referred to as either the New York Bridge or East River Bridge until its official naming in 1915, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was built. New York and Brooklyn were still

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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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How Did the Pigeon Get to NYC?

One can scarcely think of any park in NYC — or any city, really — without envisioning the ubiquitous pigeon there as well. Despite signs requesting you not feed the birds in adjacent Bryant Park, the library has more than its share of feathered patrons.

But how did this non-native species become the bird most associated with New York City? Pigeons are certainly not indigenous, but they have made themselves quite at home in the Big Apple. In

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Fifth Avenue From Start to Finish: The 1911 Equivalent of Google Street View

One of the treasures of the New York Public Library is the photographic publication "Fifth Avenue, New York, From Start to Finish." Luckily for us, this rare and beautiful collection of photographs has been digitized for anyone to view at any time — with the added advantage of being able to zoom in and truly examine the world in 1911 all up and 

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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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Connections in Unlikely Places: A WWII Genealogy Story

Many patrons arrive at the Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History and Genealogy with questions and something more. Often it is a letter written long ago, an address of a deceased cousin, or a sepia toned photograph from 1930. All are talismans from which patrons begin their family research.

This photo is my maternal uncle, Sgt. Phillip M. Carlon, 451st Bomber Group, U.S. Army Aircorps. Uncle Phil sits on the barrack steps at Stuart Airfield in 

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Wiki Gangs of New York: Editathon Recap

It was time to represent New York City and the Wikipedians showed up in force to do so! Wiki Gangs of New York was a Wikipedia editathon which took place at the Stephen A Schwarzman building on April 21, 2012 using the specialized collections of the Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History and Genealogy and the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division. With so much great material on hand to reference, Wikipedia grew with specialized local information about New 

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Direct Me NYC: NYPL Helps You Find New Yorkers in the 1940 Census

The genealogy world is buzzing with today’s release of the 1940 Federal Census, but some have been disappointed to discover that the newly released data cannot yet be searched by name. Never fear, NYPL to the rescue!

NYPL Labs has created a fantastic new online tool to help you locate New Yorkers in 1940. In conjunction with the Milstein Division, One-Step, and the

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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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