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

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 

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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 perusal, or are available on microfilm, all at the New York Public Library.

In New York City, city directories were printed between 1786 and 1934: the first telephone books began to appear in the late 1870s. 

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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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Behind the Scenes of the Milstein Suspense Trailer

History has secrets... but secrets don’t stay hidden if you know where to look...

The Library's Milstein Division staff are very excited to present a movie trailer-style promotional video, which debuted this week on YouTube. We've loved the videos that other NYPL divisions and neighborhood libraries have made — especially Jefferson 

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Telling Time on New Year's Eve: Why the First Ball Was Dropped in Times Square

On New Year's Eve all clocks are synchronized for the epitome of countdowns. The clinking of champagne glasses and the first kiss of the New Year will all be coordinated to the descent of a 12-foot-wide glowing geodesic sphere stationed on top of One Times Square. When all of its 11,875 pounds reach the bottom of its pole, we will know that the New Year has officially begun.

It wasn't always that way. But thanks to a time-honored tradition involving a lowered ball, a one-shot opening celebration has morphed into a spectacle that attracts one million revelers 

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Everyone Counts: Using the Census in Genealogy Research

You should always start your genealogy research by interviewing your relatives. Carefully record all of the names, dates, and places that they tell you. Don’t worry if Uncle Joe and Aunt Joan have a different story about where grandma was born, write it all down. With that step complete, it is time to start looking into the United States Federal Census. Census takers assiduously attempt to include all Americans, and they typically do a good job at this task. This is what makes it such a valuable genealogical tool. With few exceptions, the census is generally complete, but not always 

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The Great Obituary Hunt: A Genealogy Research Guide

Like all good detective work, genealogy research benefits from organization, patience, and procedure. One of many tools in the researchers toolbox is the obituary. Obituaries are small articles in a newspaper that offer a posthumous piece of the story of a person’s life. They can also be very useful to those who are researching genealogy, adding details that would otherwise be unknown. The names of relatives, location of birth, final resting place, occupation, religious affiliation, volunteer work, and other 

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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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Genealogy Research Tips: Breaking Through Brick Walls and Getting Past Dead Ends

Genealogy research may now be among America’s favorite hobbies, but it certainly is not the least frustrating. Stamp and coin collecting may start to look more attractive after you spend a few days combing through Ancestry Library Edition and can’t find any new records to help add details to your family tree. But don’t despair for too long, the following tips and tricks may help you get past the dreaded brick wall in genealogy research.

I would be remiss 

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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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History on the Half-Shell: The Story of New York City and Its Oysters

Blue Points, Saddle Rocks, Rockaways, Lynnhavens, Cape Cods, Buzzard Bays, Cotuits, Shrewsburys—raw on the half shell. Fried oysters, oyster pie, oyster patties, oyster box stew, Oysters Pompadour, Oysters Algonquin, Oysters a la Netherland, a la Newberg, a la Poulette, oysters roasted on toast, broiled in shell, served with cocktail sauce, stewed in milk or cream, fried with bacon, escalloped, fricasseed, and pickled. If you have spent any time transcribing for NYPL's What’s on the Menu? project, you’ve seen a lot of ways to 

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A Helluva Town: The Origins of New York’s Hellish Place Names

"New York, New York, a helluva town. The Bronx is up but the Battery's down." —On the Town

With at least three "Hell" based place names within its boundaries—Hell Gate, Hell's Kitchen, and Hell's Hundred Acres—New York City is indeed a helluva town. But in spite of name and reputation, these places are now far from infernal.

Hell Gate  Hell Gate is the oldest place name of these three.  Dating back to New Amsterdam's Dutch colonial period, Hell Gate ... Read More ›

NYC Reads: Books on the Subway

"I hope you are not here because you like to read." It was the opening salvo for my interview with the admissions director at the University of Maryland's Graduate School of Library & Information Services. I don't remember what, or if, I countered. It was 1967.

Answer or no answer I was admitted, matriculated, and graduated. After a long library career, I am now retired and a recent volunteer at NYPL. The admissions director is long gone, but I would like to reply. "I love to read. Did then, still do. And I love to know what people are 

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Beware of Zombies: The Grim Origins of Washington Square Park

Centered on Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village is a neighborhood made legendary by the world famous artists, musicians, and writers that have flourished and created within steps of its arch. However, what lies beneath that splendid, recently re-landscaped and renovated outdoor sanctuary is a bit more morbid.

In his 2003 book Around Washington Square, Luther S. Harris posed the question, “What had made 

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