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Blog Posts by Subject: Reference

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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Hey! Got Homework?

Does the word homework make you cringe in your seat?

Well, you can find complete, trustworthy information a lot faster using the Library's databases.

Here’s how to access NYPL’s databases:

  Go to www.nypl.org   Go to "Research"   Click on "Articles and Databases" (databases are listed in alphabetical order)

If you are not accessing the database on site at the Library, simply enter the number on the back of your library 

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United States Sanitary Commission Processing Project: What’s My Line?

Picture an archival version of those 1950s quiz shows — “I’ve Got a Secret” or “What’s My Line” — where panelists try to guess the identity, occupation or special talent of the contestant. This is an episode in the ongoing United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) series, where project staff members do their best to analyze and accurately describe the volumes and documents at hand, asking the usual questions: who, what, where, when? What activities do these materials reflect?

Some background: During the USSC’s 

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Celebrating the Centennial: The Tilden Library

Detail of Vernon Howe Bailey's drawing of the "Tilden Library" reading roomContrary to what you may have heard — or thought you heard, at least — this year does not mark the centennial of The New York Public Library. The centennial marks the opening of what many still think of as the Library's "main branch" on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, the Beaux-Arts landmark recently rechristened the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. But we could also call it the centennial of the Tilden Library, as I'll 

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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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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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How Words Evolve… a Darwinian look a the English Language

On a rainy, spring evening in May, Patricia T. O’Conner, former editor of the New York Times Book Review and author of Woe is I  and Origins of the Specious gave a talk at the Mid-Manhattan Library, for the 4th year in a row, entitled, “How Words Evolve… a Darwinian look at the English Language."  You might think a talk on grammar would be drab—it was anything but.  She 

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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 ›

Postscript to "Kippenberger's Quixote": The Missing Piece

About a week after my most recent post, something extraordinary happened. Regina Fiorito, a representative of the Estate of Martin Kippenberger (represented by the Galerie Gisela Capitain in Cologne) contacted the Library about it. "We would like to be in touch with Kathie Coblentz from the Spencer Collection, we read her blog today about a Kippenberger book. We (The Estate 

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This Just In! New Books March 2011

Below are a few of the newest books to hit NYPL shelves...

If you see something you like, simply click on the title and you will be able to request a copy from the NYPL catalog.

To learn more about a particular author or book, click on the person's name to be redirected to a biographical summary or book review within the NYPL database Biography in Context.

The following summaries were taken from the NYPL catalog.

FICTION

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Spencer Collection Book of the Month: Kippenberger's Quixote

Kippenberger's Don Quijote de la Mancha book object (detail)When is a book not a book? For this month's Spencer Collection Book of the Month, I have a couple of answers in mind.

From the point of view of contemporary art, the answer might be, "When it's a book object."—"Art which makes use of the book format or the structure of the book; typically ... unique sculptural works that take the form of, or incorporate, 

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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 Greenwich 

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How to Research a Report for Women's History Month

Okay, so it's March 2nd and you need to do a report on a famous woman for Woman's History month.  Who do you pick and where do you start? 

The best way to pick a famous woman is to think about your interests.  When you write about a subject that you are interested in, it just comes out sounding more convincing, and instead of being just another assignment, you might really enjoy doing your homework!

Let's get started.  Do you especially love sports?  If you do, you might think about the sport you like best.  For argument's 

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Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism 2011

Ryan Haley, Billy Parrott, Erminio D'Onofrio, Karen VanWestering, Jennifer Craft, and Maira Liriano with the 2011 Bernstein Award finalistsThe Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism was established in 1987, through a gift from Joseph Frank Bernstein to the New York Public Library, in honor of journalist Helen Bernstein (now Helen Bernstein Fealy). The gift was in two parts and the idea was to focus on Helen’s love and appreciation of the crucial role that journalism and 

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Spencer Collection Book of the Month: A Wotton Binding

Volume bound for Thomas Wotton (Detail)After I'd spent four Sunday evenings in January engrossed in the doings of the Earl of Grantham and his household on the PBS "Masterpiece Classic" series Downton Abbey, this month's choice for Spencer Collection Book of the Month was obvious: a book that lingered for more than three centuries in the company of barons and earls, before being exiled from their presence in exchange for cold, hard cash.

Like

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So, Why Do We Call It Gotham, Anyway?

The word “Gotham” actually dates back to medieval England. NYPL has some of these resources, including an 1866 reprint of The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gottam. Gathered Together by A.B. of Phisicke, Doctor, 1630. There is also a digitized version available on site at the library and a Google Book version. English proverbs tell of a village called Gotham or Gottam, meaning “Goat’s 

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Spencer Collection Book of the Month: Correspondence of St. Jerome

When I started blogging last May, I hoped to post frequently, but my "day job" of cataloging the books I'd like to write about kept getting in the way. This year, I made a New Year's resolution to blog more regularly. To get started, I thought I would pick a "Spencer Collection Book of the Month" at the beginning of each month and write a short post about it—just enough to share with my readers some of the things that make it special, because the Spencer 

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How to Cook Sri Lankan with Cabbage

Spices to prepare Sri Lankan chicken stewTraditional Sri Lankan cuisine is a wondrous mix of tropical produce, freshly pounded spices, and curries cooked slowly in clay pots over an open fire. Flavor comes with spare time and energy — two factors in short supply in the big city. As a result, photojournalist Sri Walpola became interested in how his fellow countrywomen manage to recreate the tastes of home on Staten Island.

Last year, Walpola photographed several women in the Sri Lankan enclave of Tompkinsville, Staten Island, documenting the way they adapt 

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A Tour of the Stacks

On Sunday, December 5, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building was the site of the 2010 Holiday Open House, the Library's annual thank-you celebration for donors at the Friends level ($40) or above. Besides enjoying building-wide party fun, attendees were offered a rare opportunity to glimpse a part of the Library that is normally hidden from public view: the building's central stacks 

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