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Blog Posts by Subject: Genealogy

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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Who Do You Think You Are—A Musician? Genealogy in the Music Division

Genealogy is back on prime time with the resumption of the show Who Do You Think You Are?, now beginning its second season on NBC-TV on Friday, February 4th.  Genealogy is my hobby too, so I'm always excited when I can combine it with my professional activities in the Music Division.

According to the American Library Association, "Genealogical research has become one of America's favorite 

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New Year's Waltz

New year's wishes to everyone!

Just a few words on the music pictured above.  This anonymous piano work was published around 1827 by Samuel Bromberg of New York City.  The address listed on the music is 395 Broadway, but in the New York City directory of 1829-1830, the publisher is located at 80 Broadway "upstairs."  Bromberg apparently came from Denmark: his petition for naturalization was made on June 9, 1835.  (These immigration and naturalization documents are available online through

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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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It's All Relative

Family is a topic that often takes on added significance around this time of year, as during the holiday season, many interact with relatives successfully avoided—er, um, I mean, not visited due to other pressing obligations the rest of the year. Knowing one's family history is of vital importance medically speaking, and, on a psychological level, being aware of one's familial roots assuages the feeling of being cast adrift in the world. Additionally, this year, I experienced a special interest in ascertaining information on my family.

Experiencing a surfeit 

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Heist Society: A Review

Katarina Bishop grew up all over Europe, but she isn’t an heiress. She has a Faberge egg, but she isn’t a Romanov. Kat is used to looking at a room and seeing all the angles, but that was before she stole a whole other life at the Colgan School only to walk away from it months later without a trace.

That was before everything went sideways.

While Kat was busy trying to steal a new, legit, life the family business prospered. When a powerful mobster’s priceless art collection goes missing it isn’t all that surprising that 

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Hex Hall: A Review

Sophie Mercer is a witch. But not with many perks. She has no broomstick to fly, no spell books, no talking cat (she’s allergic).

She can perform magic. But not particularly well. And not without a lot of unforeseen... complications.

Sophie and her (non-magical) mom have lived in nineteen states. They lasted the longest in Indiana (four years). They only made it two weeks in Montana. And most recently, well, that didn’t go too well either.

In fact it went so badly that Sophie’s been sentenced to Hecate Hall; a reform school for 

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Finnikin of the Rock: A Review

A long time ago, before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere. Though only nine, Finnikin knew the dream was not to be ignored.

Frightened for his kingdom, Finnikin convinced his friends Prince Balthazar and Lucian of the Mont to make a pledge with him. They climbed to the rock of three wonders and sacrificed flesh from their bodies and a hair from the head of a weeping princess Isaboe. Balthazar swore to die defending his royal house of Lumatere. Finnikin swore to 

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A Mystery in Astor Hall

I recently received a research question that posed a bit of an unusual mystery. The question was why John Jacob Astor, a founder of the library, was listed as a benefactor on one of the Astor Hall marble columns not once, but twice.

The question sent me over to Astor Hall to investigate, where I found the first four benefactors listed as John Jacob Astor, William Backhouse Astor, James Lenox, and John Jacob Astor, in that order. Hmm, a mystery indeed.   To answer the question, I began with the first issue of the ... Read More ›

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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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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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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WPA Resources

Works Progress Administration or the WPA (renamed Work Projects Administration in 1939) was in my opinion, an amazing relief program. Established in 1935 as part of the New Deal by the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the WPA was an ambitious federal jobs program created to provide blue collar and white collar jobs for the unemployed during the Great Depression. Work ranged from road construction to theatrical productions to research for the Library of Congress and the program employed millions of individuals.

Opponents of the 

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Reading a photograph

Who doesn’t like old photographs? When I explain my responsibilities as a librarian here at the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library people seem most fascinated by my work with photographic prints. Perhaps this is due in part to the sense of history images capture that can elude written descriptions. This Fall I will be teaching a class on dating family photographs. Inspiration for developing this class came as I encountered undated and often times completely unmarked photographic 

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Gift from Genealogical and Biographical Society

Exciting news: The New York Public Library has received a very important gift from the Genealogical and Biographical Society. To read more about it, see the press release found on our website and the New York Times article from Saturday's paper.

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Historical Staten Island Maps in the Digital Gallery

There's a great selection of Staten Island maps and Atlases in the NYPL Digital Gallery. Using the "Pan and Zoom" feature the maps can be enlarged to the point where you can read street names and even the names of residents of individual houses. "Pan and Zoom" is not available on all maps, however.

Here are some of the maps and atlases available:

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W.M. Van Der Weyde

For the past few months I have been working with a collection of photographs of various locations in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century. The collection will be available on our wonderful digital gallery in the future and I’m looking forward to seeing these images uploaded – some of them are really amazing.

I wrote a while ago about Hilah Paulmier and of the trail of documents that led me to verifying her identity. Recently I 

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Discovering Algot Lange

This is a picture of Algot Lange. Do you know who he is? I had not heard about him until last week when a patron approached the General Research Division reference desk asking about him. Mr. Lange was a Swedish explorer who wrote two books about his adventures in the Amazon during the early twentieth century. He’s an interesting fellow and a reminder that not all of history 

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Genealogy is Fun! The Mystery of H. Paulmier solved

We all like a good challenge sometimes and one presented itself to me in these three images:

While they are not aesthetically beautiful they are lovely documents of a specific time and place. All images are from Quincy, Massachusetts. The first is of the Coddington School, the second of the Old First Church, and the third is of the residence of William Coddington. The inscription on the back of each reads, “H. Paulmier 2 Landscape Pl. Yonkers, NY.” Since photographs are most useful to us when dated and ascribed to a 

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U.S. Passport Applications on Ancestry Library Edition

Ancestry Library Edition is one of the most heavily used subscription databases in the NYPL system. Some of you may already be familiar with this database as it is one of the best for genealogy research. Recently it has added a new collection to their content, U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925. Prior to the digitization of these records, genealogists and other researchers could only access these applications at the National Archives and Records Administration. The information found on these applications includes birth and marriage dates, names 

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