Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Researching with NYPL's E-Resources and Other Databases

By Michelle Lee
May 19, 2020
Chatham Square Library

Children of Chinatown, San Francisco, 1903-1904. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID 66574

May is Asian Pacific America Heritage Month. The New York Public Library has created this list of free online resources to help you delve into the many aspects of Asian/Pacific American history and culture, including genealogy, the performing arts, LGBT studies and more to promote further research this month or any time of the year.

These online resources can be accessed for free to anyone with a New York Public Library Card. Other notable public digital archives with Asian/Pacific American artifacts, articles and images are mentioned as well.

Some  important research tips:

Searching for the term "Asian American" in a digital database or archive may sometimes lead to overwhelming or disappointing search results that include Asian-specific articles, images and references, or search results from unrelated topics that just happen to have the words "Asian" or "American" within the text or description.

Screenshot of search term results for "Asian American" in Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Similarly, search results for the term "Indian American" can vary as well and occasionally include articles, photographs and other stories about Native Americans/American Indians.

Screenshot of search term results for "Indian American" in The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Researchers can narrow down resources by using a combination of specific search terms for different Asian/Pacific American ethnic groups (such as "Korean American," "Filipino American," "Asian Indian American," "Native Hawaiian," or "Samoan,") or by using more general terms, such as "South Asian American," or "Pacific Islander."

General and Scholarly Research

Credo Reference

Provides access to more than 1,000 multidisciplinary reference books on art, health and medicine, history, law, literature, politics, psychology, and various encyclopedias.   

Gale Virtual Reference

Contains hundreds of articles on Asian/Pacific American studies from e-books and encyclopedias, including the Encyclopedia of Asian American Literature; Asian American Society: An Encyclopedia; Asian American Cultures: From Anime to Tiger Moms;  Asian American Religious Cultures and Japanese Americans: The History and Culture of a People.


Contains thousands of articles from various scholarly journals and book chapters from contemporary Asian/Pacific American publications, including books and journals published by the University of Hawaii Press.

ProQuest Research Library

Includes thousands of articles from various scholarly journals, local, national and international newspapers and magazines and trade publications. Titles that may be of interest include the  Journal of Asian American Studies, Asian American Policy Review and Amerasia Journal.

U.S. History in Context

A database with millions of general reference materials, news and periodical articles, academic journals, images and primary source documents. Patrons can access biographies on notable Asian/Pacific American activists, artists, scholars, politicians, writers, scientists and athletes by searching Asian American Reference Library, Encyclopedia of World Biography Online and Newsmakers Online.


Ancestry Library Edition

Includes databases from around the world with billions of records for genealogical research, such as birth, marriage and death certificates, military records, immigration and emigration travel lists, and citizenship and naturalization records. Some databases of interest for Asian/Pacific American research include U.S. - Chinese Exclusion Act Case files from 1883-1924; Hawaii Special Rights of Citizenship Certificates from 1894-1895; ship passenger lists for several states and Ellis Island during select years, U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes from 1791-1992; and U.S. City Directories from 1822-1995.

Ancestry also provides access to U.S. Federal Census records from 1790 to 1940. Asians were first counted in the 1870 Census when enumerators were instructed to write "C" for Chinese as a separate race category (which was also used to classify all people of East Asian descent). Enumerators later specified "Chinese" and "Japanese" as separate race categories in the 1890 Census. Additional Asian ethnic categories —"Korean," "Filipino," and "Hindu" —would be added in the 1930 Census and people of other backgrounds could write in their respective race.

People who live in the Hawaiian Islands were first counted in the 1900 Census, two years after annexation (for more information on earlier censuses, visit the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library historical census guide). Residents of Guam and American Samoa were first counted in the 1920 Census and residents of the Northern Mariana Islands were first counted in the 1970 Census (for more information, visit the U.S. Census History website on Island Areas).

Newspapers and Magazines

India Abroad, March 30,2020. Archives accessible via Ethnic News Watch. Image from

Yolk, vol. 1,1994. Archives accessible via Ethnic News Watch. Image from

Ethnic News Watch

A collection of more than 400 various ethnic, minority and native newspapers, magazines and journals primarily in English and published in North America. Current and archived newspapers of interest include AsianWeek, India Abroad, Filipino Reporter, Hmong Times, Korea Times and Northwest Asian Weekly. Current and archived magazines and journals of interest include A. Magazine, Chinese America: History and Perspectives, Chopsticks NY, Filipinas, Hinduism Today, Hmong Studies Journal, Hyphen Magazine, V. Magazine and Yolk.

A database with over 11,100 history newspapers from around the world, including more than 2,000 newspapers from the American mainland and 22 newspapers from Hawaii. The time frame for the newspapers mainly cover the 19th and 20th centuries.

The New York Public Library also provides remote digital access to more than 100 other databases for current and historical national and international newspapers in various languages, including the World Newspaper Archive from 1800 -1920, 12 English-language Chinese newspapers from 1832-1953, the South China Morning Post from 1903 - 1996, the Times of India from 1838-2003, the Japan Times Archive from 1897 - 2015, and the Ethnic American Newspapers from the Balch Collection, 1799-1971, which contains digitized copies of several Japanese internment/concentration camp newspapers and the Rocky Shimpo, a Japanese American newspaper from Denver, Colorado.  

Lesbian Gay Transgender Bisexual (LGBT) Resources

Archives of Sexuality and Gender

Contains 54 digitized archival collections focused on LGBTQ culture and history since 1940. Collections of particular Asian/Pacific American interest include the Asian/Pacific AIDS Coalition (APAC)Records, from a San Francisco advocacy group that existed from 1987-1995; and the Asian Pacific Lesbians and Gays (A/PLG) Records, a collection of materials from the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives spanning 1977-2012.

Other NYPL Collections

"Aloha Oe sheet music." Queen of Hawaii Liliuokalani (1838-1917), composer and lyricist. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1899. Image ID 1269177.           

Japanese agricultural workers packing broccoli near Guadalupe, California . Dorothea Lange, photographer. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1937. Image ID 57585029.

The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Has more than 890,000 digitized historic and contemporary items ranging from photographs, illustrations, documents and audio/visual materials.

Note: some of the older photographs, illustrations and texts may have images, captions and descriptions that use outdated or stereotypical language and depictions from the time the item was made that would now be considered racist or offensive.

Chinatown Legacy Project

The New York Public Library Community Oral History Project

A collection of more than 50  interviews with current and former Manhattan Chinatown residents and local business owners. Some interviews were conducted in partnership with the Chinese-American Planning Council. One person who talks in length about Chinese American history is Corky Lee, the "undisputed unofficial Asian American photographer laureate."

The Library for the Performing Arts

The Library for the Performing Arts has several collections of interest, including the archives of theater director/choreographer/film and video artist Ping Chong, actress/dancer/talent agent Jadin Wong, costume designer Willa Kim, the papers of classical Indian dancer and teacher Indrani Rahman, videos from the Asian American Dance Theatre and archived materials from the South Asian Theater Arts Movement. Some materials may be accessed virtually from the New York Public Library Digital Collection.

Indrani: Classical Indian Dancer. The New York Public Library Digital Collections, Jerome Robbins Dance Division. 1965-1975. Image ID 1712322.

Besame costume sketches for Eric Rivera and Jenny Sandler. Willa Kim, costume designer. The New York Public Library Digital Collections, Billy Rose Theatre Division. 2001. Image ID: 58110509.

Additional Digital Resources

Angel Island Immigration Station Archives

Contains historic photographs, films and immigrant stories and photographs, translations and audio/video recordings of the Chinese poetry inscribed on the immigrant station barrack walls.

Archives New Zealand

Contains thousands of digitized government records, photographs and artwork going back to 1840, including a research guide for Māori genealogy and records.

The Chinese Railroad Workers Project at Stanford Libraries

A digital exhibit website which contains digitized images of artifacts and records connected to the Chinese laborers who worked on the U.S. transcontinental railroad from 1864-1849. The website also contains oral history interviews with the descendents of the railroad workers recorded from 2013-2018. 

Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project Digital Repository

Contains thousands of photographs, documents, newspapers, oral histories, interviews and other primary source materials connected to the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans.


A digital heritage project with articles and pictures about the history, geography, government and environment of Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands and information about Chamorro art and culture.

Hawaii State Digital Archives Photography Collection

Contains a selection of historic photographs of people, places, items and events from the 18th to 20th century. Popular collections include photos of Hawaiian royalty, Honolulu, sugar plantations and airlines.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog

Contains millions of digital photographs, prints, illustrations and drawings from the Library of Congress, including  Ansel Adam's photographs of the Japanese American Internment at Manzanar.

National Archives Asian American and Pacific Islander Month website

Contains numerous select articles, images, teaching documents, research links and videos. 

Smithsonian Institution Search Center

Contains millions of digital photographs and image of museum artifacts, photographs, audio and video clips and blog posts.

South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA)

Contains thousands of digital images, newspaper clippings, oral histories, films, articles and other artifacts related to South Asian American history from the 19th century to the present.

University of Hawaii at Manoa Library Digital Image Collection

Contains digitized images of scrapbooks, photographs, illustrations, maps, music, magic lantern slides and other artifacts from the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library spanning the 18th century to the present.

Welga Digital Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies

Contains digital photographs, documents and oral histories pertaining to the Filipino American labor movement and activism in California, including the United Farm Workers (UFW) and Delano grape strike.