Emigrant City: An Introduction

By Willa Armstrong
November 4, 2015

NYPL Labs and the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy are excited to announce the launch of Emigrant City, the Library's newest, online participatory project. Emigrant City invites you to help transcribe recently digitized mortgage and bond record books from the Library’s collection of Emigrant Savings Bank records. Your transcriptions will help make the materials digitally accessible to all, including genealogists, educators, historians. In the process, you'll get a detailed glimpse of real estate transactions and immigrant life during a foundational period of New York City's history. Help the Library build this exciting new resource!

Emigrant City Home Page Screen Short

Still operating today, Emigrant Bank is the oldest savings bank in New York City and the ninth-largest privately owned bank in the country. It was founded in 1850 by 18 members of the Irish Emigrant Society with the goal of serving the needs of the immigrant community in New York. NYPL’s Manuscripts and Archives Division houses the Library’s collection of the early records from the bank. The collection’s first mortgage record is dated February 20, 1851. From the mid-19th century through the 1920s, there are an estimated 6,400 mortgages, each telling a story of upward mobility in a rapidly expanding city. (Two of these stories are found in mortgages 1 and 87, belonging to Francis A. Kipp and Mary O'Connor, respectively. Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog post detailing their stories.)

First Mortgage

These real estate records have remained largely invisible and difficult to search. However, the full Emigrant Savings Bank collection is frequently consulted by genealogists and historians, among others. This collection contains a wide variety of materials about the bank's depositors and borrowers, including minutes of the board of trustees and finance committee. Portions of this larger collection, the test books,  have even been digitized and made available through Ancestry.com. (This resource is available onsite at all NYPL locations.) Through digitization of the real estate records, and transcribing the hand-written information they contain, we hope to expose this underused portion of the collection to enable new discoveries and research.

Emigrant City is also an experiment. Digitizing materials is much more than simply creating a digital image of a manuscript or artifact. Though computers have made fantastic advances in automatically converting digitized pages into searchable text, vast troves of information exist in libraries and archives that require careful human labor to unlock their deeper contents to search engines and digital researchers. So here at NYPL Labs, we’ve been working with the citizen science mavens at Zooniverse, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, to prototype of a highly configurable crowdsourcing framework called Scribe that could be used on a wide range of historical and archival material.

Emigrant City Mark Task

Emigrant City joins a collection of crowdsourcing projects launched by NYPL in recent years, including Building Inspector and What's on the Menu? Go to emigrantcity.nypl.org to get started! There are lots of records to go through, and when finished, we’ll have a robust data-set of verified, structured data. Meanwhile, the team is working to create browsing and bulk download options for this wealth of information. With the growing data set, we’ll be able to find myriad stories, like those of Francis Kipp and Mary O'Connor, and to ask innumerable questions. It’s a lot of work, but we’re confident we can do it. Join us!