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

Road Trip

What could be more American than the road trip narrative? From Jack Kerouac to Tom Robbins, Americans have penned accounts both real and fictional about the joys and singular boredom of the open road. The rolling hills and prairies, the breeze wafting in through the window, and the seemingly endless dots of small towns, roadside restaurants and gas stations all stem from a particularly American phenomenon: the Interstate Highway System.

The

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Primary Day

Hopefully those of you living in New York City were able to participate in Primary Day; if you haven’t, it’s not too late. Registered voters have until 9:00 this evening. Of course, we all care about our city and want to take part in electing our public officials. Perhaps this morning you were overwhelmed by the number of candidates to research and decide between. According to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, as of September 10, 2009 there were a total of 374 candidates running for election!

Still, New Yorkers have been given materials to be informed: The New York 

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Better Living Through Selective Breeding

When reading family histories, as I often find myself doing in the Milstein Division, I frequently come across glowing depictions of people’s ancestors, of the grandmother who made the best peach cobbler this side of the Mississippi, or the aunt who was adored by all the neighborhood children and stray cats. For obvious reasons, less favorable descriptions of one’s family are not as common. Rarely do we come across stories of the egotistical great-grandfather or the lay-about uncle. Even 

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Happy 4th of July!

Images of the High Line

Have you visited the High Line yet? I haven’t but I am looking forward to making the trip in the near future. The High Line is an elevated train track which fell out of use during the 1950s due to the increased use of interstate highways for freight deliveries. In the late nineties, two New Yorkers came together to start Friends of the High Line, a group whose mission was to keep the historic structure from being demolished. Ultimately, the group partnered with the

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Photographic Views on Google Earth

As I have mentioned in the past, part of my work entails handling some wonderful photographs. One collection I processed last year was the Photographic Views of the United States, comprised of photographs from locations across the continental U.S., Hawaii and Alaska. While its layout is intuitively alphabetized by state, Matt Knutzen, from the Map Division decided to provide an alternative visual interface, 

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Milstein joins the Flickr Commons!

Just last week, the New York Public Library updated their Flickr Commons photostream. The newest images are from the Milstein Division and include construction photographs of the Woolworth Building as well as block by block street views of both Fifth Avenue (1911) and

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The Queens of Finance

Who exactly were the Queens of Finance? The New York Herald reserved this title for Victoria Claflin Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin (or Tennie C Claflin). These sisters surmounted incredible odds by establishing a highly lucrative brokerage business on Wall Street in 1869. Born in Homer, Ohio they were not privy to the comforts and education afforded by wealth or high social stature. In fact, their childhood was quite tumultuous. Born to an alcoholic father, the sisters took charge of providing for the family while 

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Islands of New York City: Roosevelt Island

 As one would guess, Roosevelt Island was not always known as Roosevelt Island. In fact over the past four hundred years it has gone through six name changes. From the Native American Minnahanonck, or “nice island,” to the Dutch name Varckens Island (meaning hogs island) to the English name Manning Island which became Blackwell Island, to American, Welfare Island and finally to the present, Roosevelt Island. Most of these names changes came as ownership was transferred from one party to the next, marking very distinct periods of history for the island which we now know as 

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Islands of New York City: High Island

 The photograph on the left is of High Island, an 8 acre spit of land between the Pelham Bay and the Long Island Sound, as seen from its more well-known neighbor, City Island. After researching High Island it remains somewhat of a mystery to me. Artifacts have been found on its shores, alluding to a time prior to the arrival of Europeans, but its Siwanoy name is still unknown. Even the origin of its present day name is uncertain. Some would guess that its name describes its physical 

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Islands of New York City: Big Egg Marsh, Little Cuba, and a Broad Channel

Believe it or not, all of these names at one point referred to the same place: the only inhabited island in the Jamaica Bay, now known as Broad Channel. Have you ever been to Broad Channel? If you have, then you know that it looks nothing like the rest of New York City. Having spent half of my youth in Queens and the other half on the east end of Long Island, I 

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Islands of New York City

Sometimes, from beyond the skyscrapers, the cry of a tugboat finds you in your insomnia, and you remember that this desert of iron and cement is an island -Albert Camus; American Journals (April/May 1946 entry)

In the quote above, Camus reminds us that this skinny piece of land, on which are built so many buildings and skyscrapers, is in fact, an island. What struck me about this quote today weren't its emotional implications but rather the fact that "Island" is not the immediate impression one gets of Manhattan. New York City, however, is actually comprised of many 

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A Big Day

The image left is from 1889, taken during the centennial celebration of George Washington's inauguration. I wonder what kind of celebration there will be 100 years from tomorrow . . .

To be sure, one will not need to wait 100 years to see a celebration. Washington, D.C. is gearing up for the largest crowd it has ever seen. I won't be there on Tuesday, but I will be watching. In fact, if you want to join me, stop by the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. We'll be watching inaugural festivities in the South Court classrooms.

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Researching New York City History

This Friday, the Milstein Division will be offering a free class on the best online resources to use in researching New York City’s history. I invite all students, history buffs and library lovers to come to the Humanities and Social Sciences Library to find out more about all the databases and websites used to research the people and the events that contributed to our city’s history. For this month’s class, I’ll be focusing on the history of this library’s immediate neighborhood – from the Crystal Palace and the Croton Reservoir to the 

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Untapped Genealogical Treasures

Before her death in 1852, Nancy Nicol carefully cut a lock of hair from each of her three young children, her husband and herself, and sat down to make a memento for the family she would be leaving behind. Nancy had drawn out a family register, covered with curlicues and other inky flourishes, listing the milestone dates of births and marriages – there had been no deaths to record, yet. Next to each name, her husband David, her own and the children, George, Catherine and Martha, she fastened the curls of hair to the paper with ribbon and wax.

After Nancy Nicol’s 

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Photographs from the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, 1932

 Check out more images here. Happy Thanksgiving!

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An election of a lifetime

This certainly is the election of my lifetime. If you’ve already voted today you probably had to wait a while to do so. This morning I’ve been spending time with the Encyclopedia of U.S. campaigns, elections, and electoral behavior. While it was just published in 2008 and is excellent for historical review, so much has changed this election season that I am wondering if an addendum will be published in the near future. I’m looking forward to new studies that will take the innovations used in the 2008 election into 

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A unique collection: US military shoulder patches

 For the most part materials at the Milstein Division include print and electronic resources. A particularly unique collection held in our stacks is a seven-volume set of scrapbooks filled with World War I and World War II shoulder patches. Recently, these scrapbooks were treated by the Conservation Lab staff who lovingly restored them, cleaning the patches and encapsulating the pages. Conservation staff enjoyed this project thoroughly and 

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Births + Marriages + Deaths = Family History

The equation above, however overly simplified, represents the foundation of a family history. In this blog post I want to introduce a few guidebooks and indexes in section 15 of our open shelves. Section 15 focuses specifically on vital records of New York City, mainly records produced by places of worship or notices from newspapers. Below are three items from this section:

To start, let’s revisit the Works Progress Administration’s Guide to Church Vital Statistics in the City of New York, which I mentioned in a 

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Classes on Dating and Conserving Family Photographs

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on dating photographs based on photographic process and contextual clues. If this topic interest you, you may want to visit the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building or two classes on dating and preserving photographs. This Friday, I will be teaching a class called Clues from Family Photographs and next week, Tuesday Erin Murphy, the Associate Conservator for Photographs and Paper, will be offering a class called Caring for Family Photographs. Both of these classes will be held at 3:15-4:30 in 

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