Guide to the Research Collections



History of the United States at the town or county level is administered by the Local History and Genealogy Division. The library has rich and extensive materials in this field. Included are published town and county histories, printed archives and documents, church rolls, and vital records. The holdings relating to Virginia and Massachusetts are particularly strong, and those of the other New England states are noteworthy. Exceptionally strong resources in New York local history are discussed in a subsequent section. Among the western states the literature pertaining to Mormon Utah and to California is noteworthy. The Arents Tobacco Collection has a large number of manuscripts from Frederick County, Maryland, ranging in date from the mid-eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century.

The files of local history serials are especially strong. This material, along with pertinent articles in general periodicals, is generally indexed in the catalog of the Local History and Genealogy Division.

Related materials include the general historical works of the American History Division, the very extensive group of municipal reports in the Economic and Public Affairs Division, and such subject areas as regimental histories and church history.

The collection of United States city directories through 1869 in the Local History Division numbers 1,300 volumes and is of exceptional strength and completeness. A microfilm of the New York City directories is available for public use. The General Research and Humanities Division administers a representative group of current United States city directories held in the Main Reading Room. A good collection of city directories for the period since 1870 is kept in the Research Libraries Annex Building.

Pictorial views of the United States are held in the Prints Division, where there is a card index to the views filed there as well as in other locations of the library. The Phelps Stokes collection of historical prints and early views of American cities provides documentation from the earliest periods through the nineteenth century. There are also landscape drawings in the Spencer Collection and in the diaries and other materials of the Manuscripts and Archives Division. There is an extensive group of stereopticon views in the American History Division, and a collection of photographs from the Farm Security Administration Photographic Project in the Picture Collection, a unit of the Branch Libraries.

New York: State, City, and Other Local History (Billings IR-IRM)

The administration of this collection of approximately 7,000 books and pamphlets is divided

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between the American History Division (state history) and the Local History and Genealogy Division (town or county history). These materials, relating to political, constitutional, military, religious, and social history, as well as books of travel, are supplemented by a large number of works in the Rare Book Division, the rich collections of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, the extensive groups of public documents and other materials in the Economic and Public Affairs Division, materials in newspapers and periodicals, and by other subject collections of the library.

New York State: General

The subject materials classed in Billings class mark I include most of the published general and special histories, a very great number of printed historical documents, generally complete files of historical periodicals, and large numbers of pamphlets and almanacs. Special topics of importance include materials on the civil list and on the constitutional history of the state.15

Early historical literature, especially books and pamphlets having early New York imprints, constitutes a rich collection in the Rare Book Division. Other division resources include newspapers, periodicals, broadsides, almanacs, and public documents published before 1801, and such special materials as paper money, tokens, and medals. The fine collection of early American newspapers are, for the most part, from the collection formed by Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet and Charles R. Hildeburn. Among the book rarities are such items as Daniel Denton's A Brief Description of New York (1670), the first separate publication in English relating to the province of New York; the library has two copies, one of them in the scarce, perfect state.16 The Laws & Acts of the colony of New York printed by William Bradford in 1694 is the first compilation of laws published in New York.

The Phelps Stokes and Eno collections in the Prints Division provide scenes of towns and topographical resources. Aquatints from the Hudson River Portfolio (1823-24) in the Spencer Collection, representing views of the "American Rhine" from Albany to New York, are considered to be the best color work produced in this country at the time of their printing.

Such a profusion of manuscript sources for a study of the history of New York exists in the library that it is impossible to give more than an indication of available materials. Many of the large Americana collections in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, such as the Bancroft, Chalmers, Duyckinck, Emmet, Ford, and Gansevoort-Lansing papers, contain important New York items. The William Smith memoirs and papers covering the period from 1732 to 1783 are important for New York State history as well as for a study of the beginnings and conduct of the Revolution.17 The Schuyler collection includes source materials for the study of Indians, canals, and land transactions in New York State from 1720 to 1840. Additional land papers are found in the Delancey Stow memorial collection for the period from 1812 to 1903. The library has the manuscript index to the papers of the Colony and Manor of Rensselaerswyck, which was given by the heirs of General Stephen Van Rensselaer in 1923.18 State and national politics are reflected in the papers of Samuel Jones Tilden, James Schoolcraft Sherman, Anthony Jerome Griffin, William Bourke Cockran, and others.

The Manuscripts and Archives Division holds the official records of various local and state units, including those of the town of Harlem (1662-1760), the New York Supreme Court (1735-72), the Vice-Admiralty Court of New York (1753-70), the U.S. District Court for the District of New York (1796-98), and the official diary of the federal Prohibition Administrator for New York (1927-30). There are also records of Orange and Rockland Counties. The copy-books of William Gorham Rice, Timothy S. Williams, and Ashley W. Cole, private secretaries respectively to David B. Hill, Roswell P. Flower, and Levi P. Morton, record the correspondence of the governors of New York from 1886 to 1895. The extensive and growing collection of journals and diaries in the Manuscripts and Archives Division adds important resources for the study of New York history.

New York State: Local History

Local history materials relating to New York are extensive, including most of the published town and county histories, periodicals, society publications, church rolls, vital records, and similar materials of interest to researchers in local history and genealogy. The pamphlet collection is noteworthy: it contains commemorative and other ephemeral materials in addition to historical studies.

Especially strong materials for western New York, particularly the Rochester area, derive from the collection formed by Rear Admiral Franklin Hanford and purchased by the library in 1931.19 Rockland County is also well represented, largely through the purchase in 1933 of the collection formed by George H. Budke. This archive includes not only published local histories and genealogies but also manuscript transcripts of official records, typewritten indexes to archives and other manuscript material on the county, along with important items relating to the American Indian, dating from the eighteenth century.

Local documents of New York counties and municipalities constitute an extensive collection. These are more complete from the earliest times up to World War II than for the postwar period because of the tremendous increase in publication. First in importance are the journals of the

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county boards of supervisors. Printing of these journals generally commenced near the middle of the nineteenth century, although Monroe and Westchester Counties have printed their earlier proceedings from manuscript; files are maintained for each county.

The library limits its collecting in the field of municipal documents to the more important cities in the State, although there is comprehensive collecting for all communities in the greater New York City metropolitan area. Most major series are in the holdings. The council proceedings are of the greatest importance. Complete files include Albany (1858-); Buffalo (1854-); Newburgh (1884/85-); and Schenectady (1854-). Long files which are not complete include Amsterdam (1898-); Auburn (1889/90-); Binghamton (1897/98-); Elmira (1875/76-); New Rochelle (1902-); Niagara Falls (1896/97-1951); Rochester (1848/49-1951); Rome (1896/97-1949); Syracuse (1890-1951); Troy (1801-40, 1884/85-1949); and Utica (1895-1943). A few commencing in comparatively recent years are complete: Jamestown (1919-); White Plains (1917-); and Yonkers (1907-11, 1935-).

New York City

A rich and varied body of literature in the general collections of the Research Libraries documents the local history of New York City from the earliest explorations and settlement. The collections widen in scope to trace political, social, and financial aspects from the colonial period to the present. In view of the city's impact upon state and national events, the materials considered in this section of the Guide are limited insofar as possible to those which have as the dominant feature the history of New York City proper.

As in the case with other important collections, local history is not completely covered by any single library division. Materials of social history conventionally categorized as local history are administered by the Local History and Genealogy Division; such materials relating to New York City constitute one of the richest collections in the division. Scarce and valuable works are kept in the Rare Book Division, manuscripts in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, and municipal publications, excepting those in the Rare Book Division and other special subject classes, in the Economic and Public Affairs Division. These are supplemented by important groups of prints, maps, photographs, and ephemera.

Although many subject classes in the library contribute valuable materials for the study of New York City history, only a few are mentioned here: biography, with large holdings documenting the lives of New York City residents; technology, with specialized material on the city's mechanical development (such as that documenting the subway and elevated railway, represented by holdings of the Parsons collection); and medicine, with a wealth of records of hospitals and similar institutions. Under the category of religion, church records and similar materials of local import are retained in the Local History and Genealogy Division by virtue of their great historical interest; church history, however, remains in the general collections.

 Pictorial Material: Abundant pictorial materials of New York City and its inhabitants from the earliest periods are held in the library. Visual studies of New York City in the Local History and Genealogy Division fill 40 cabinet drawers: a card index arranged by the names of buildings is maintained. Another file contains photographs documenting social conditions from 1905 to 1939. A collection of approximately 15,000 negatives made by the Tenement House Department of New York City dates from 1903 through the 1930s. These appear to have been taken during inspection tours and record tenement conditions in close detail. Floor plans, street views of tenements, apartment buildings, and stores in many areas of the city are included. Most of the negatives are 5-by-7-inch glass plates; a calendar is in preparation.

The American History Division has extensive stereopticon views relating to the city. The Picture Collection of the Branch Libraries has a substantially complete collection of prints made from the original negatives of the Federal Art Project, "Changing New York." The Eno collection of New York City views and the Phelps Stokes collection of American historical prints administered by the Prints Division provide a wealth of illustrative material. The Phelps Stokes collection contains the earliest view of New York (the Hartgers view of New Amsterdam), dating from about 1626 to 1628.

 Manuscripts: The manuscript collections noted in the preceding section on New York State history contain much material specifically related to New York City. On deposit from the Corporation of the City of New York since 1899, the Dongan Charter (dated April 27, 1686) is the first of a succession of charters which affirmed the right of the Corporation of the City to administer municipal government. The library attempts to secure representative records of organizations such as business enterprises, city societies, and government agencies. Important business papers include the Constable-Pierrepont collection, composed of the records of James Constable, a merchant of the city from 1799 to 1807, and those of Hezekiah Beers Pierrepont, merchant, distiller, and landowner for the period from 1793 to 1838. Banking in the city is covered by the records of Brown Brothers and Company and those of Brown, Shipley and Company, bankers in New York and London during the period between 1825 and 1889.20 The extensive papers of Moses Taylor, an important New York merchant of the nineteenth century, reflect the business life of the city during that period.21

Business records which are added to the collections usually constitute a sample, covering activities and interests already represented. The Macmillan archives, including 119 correspondence copy-books and some 16,000 letters from Macmillan authors during the first half of the twentieth century, augment the library's extensive literary holdings. The papers of New York Typographical Union No. 6 for the period 1870-1917 strengthen the resources relating to printing technology, the printing industry, trade unionism, and economics. There are also the extensive records of the New York World's Fairs of 1939/40 and 1964/65, the latter not yet available to the public.

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