Guide to the Research Collections



The Local History and Genealogy Division administers the collection of materials on genealogy, heraldry, flags, names, and the local history of the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland at the town and county level. Genealogical and heraldic resources consist of more than 39,000 volumes. There are 19,000 volumes of the local history of Great Britain and Ireland and about 27,000 volumes dealing with the local history of the United States. Supplementary materials in non-Roman alphabets are held in the Slavonic, Jewish, and Oriental Divisions. A large number of scrapbooks, clippings, and manuscripts, including much fugitive and privately printed material, are in the division, with a large number of local history pamphlets of an ephemeral nature in the "n.c." classification (material retained but not cataloged). Resources for the study of local history are discussed fully in the sections on American history and the history of Great Britain.

The acquisition policy for genealogy is generally comprehensive for the United States and strongly representative for Great Britain and Ireland. The collecting policy is representative or selective for most other countries, with the exception of collective genealogies, which are acquired comprehensively for all areas. Bibliography, history, periodicals, and regional works on heraldry are also collected comprehensively, as are works on flags. Local history of the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland is collected comprehensively.

Major works of genealogical reference for all nationalities are represented in the collections, but the most extensive holdings relate to the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland. Among the holdings are British parish registers, and an inclusive group of British and American periodicals of genealogical associations, local history societies, and patriotic organizations, together with serials devoted to heraldry, individual American cities, British antiquities, and similar topics. In 1969, 791 serial publications were currently received in the division in the fields of genealogy, heraldry, and local history of the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland; 670 coming from the United States and 121 from other countries. Of the latter number, 28 were German publications and 42 were publications from Great Britain and Ireland. This figure does not include the numerous other periodicals and serials partially pertaining to genealogy and local history received by other divisions of the Research Libraries.

An important body of material supplementing the periodical resources in the Local History and Genealogy Division is found in the state historical periodicals and publications administered by the American History Division. Local histories of Canada, the West Indies, Mexico, and Central and South America are part of the American History Division's collection. Local histories of other countries of the world are administered by the General Research and Humanities Division.

Since genealogy is a field requiring specialized reference background and techniques, questions on this subject are usually referred to the Local History and Genealogy Division regardless of the dispersion of resources.

Published in 1974 were A Dictionary Catalog of the Local History and Genealogy Division (G.K. Hall, 18 volumes) and United States Local History Catalog (2 volumes).

A perhaps unique collection of anniversary and special issues of local United States newspapers is available on microfilm. These special issues are cataloged under the name of the locality, and are also entered under the title "Collection of newspapers relating to centennial celebrations and histories of U.S. localities."

Scrapbooks and vertical files include views of American towns and cities, newspaper articles on individual families, historical facts about New York City, etc.

The Local History and Genealogy Division contains pictorial material on United States National Parks in its archives of photographs, stereopticon views, and scrapbooks, and also regularly receives ephemeral material which is stored in vertical files. Ephemera from state parks in the United States is also available, although on a more limited basis. As a matter of course commercially published materials augment this ephemera on state and national parks. The famous natural spectacle of Niagara Falls may be cited as an example: book materials extend from a first mention of the falls in Louis Hennepin's Nouvelle Decouverte (1697) to an interesting collection of approximately seventy cataloged guide books dated from 1834 to 1924, along with items such as James Knox Liston's Niagara Falls: A Poem (1843).

Holdings of local New York area newspapers include complete runs of the Villager and the Village Voice, but only a selective group of other titles; when particular local newspapers become important as historical sources there is an attempt to complete the run.

Catalog cards for books in the Local History and Genealogy Division appear in both the division catalog and the Public Catalog; however, cards for vertical file materials and certain analytic entries are not represented in the Public Catalog. Entries for material covering such subjects as bridges, hotels, restaurants, etc. are arranged geographically in the division catalog (for example, "New York (City)--Bridges"), while they are arranged in the Public Catalog only by subject with a geographical subdivision ("Bridges--U.S.--N.Y.--New York").

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Card Files

International Biographical Index to Scientists and Aviators

Before 1967 this card index, arranged alphabetically by name, was maintained in the Science and Technology Division (inactive, 58 card drawers; 70,000 references). Entries refer generally to biographical sketches and obituary notices, and similar short pieces on scientists and aviators in periodicals and publications of learned societies shelved in the Research Libraries.

Coat of Arms Index

This alphabetical index arranged by surnames refers to coats of arms in books located, for the most part, in the Local History and Genealogy Division; one tray indexes the public arms of nations, royal families, educational institutions, and other organizations (21 card drawers).

Index to Probate Notices

This file provides information on the dates of death and the probate notices of New Yorkers (Dea-Z only), primarily drawn from newspaper accounts ca. 1916-27 (inactive, 8 card drawers).

New York City Views

Arranged by subject groups (such as hotels, museums, parks, theatres), this index refers for the most part to books in the Local History and Genealogy Division (10 card drawers).

"Let's Exchange" File

This file provides information on genealogies in preparation by users of the Local History and Genealogy Division, and permits users to exchange information with other family historians (500 cards).

Vertical Files

Genealogy Vertical File

This file, arranged by family name, has uncataloged family genealogical data and other ephemera in the form of letters and jottings; most of the material refers to American families (10 file trays).

New York City Views

A file of mounted photographs of views of the five boroughs of New York City since the late nineteenth century, but taken for the most part in the 1920s and 1930s (49 file trays). Many of the photographs were taken by Percy L. Sperr. On the reverse of each photograph is an identification of the view, the date it was taken (when known), the name of the photographer, and sometimes a notation to indicate whether reproduction is permitted. The file is arranged alphabetically by street or place name or numerically by street and avenue; there is a card index arranged alphabetically by name of building and subject.

A separate file contains 443 photographs taken by Lewis Wickes Hine documenting social conditions primarily in New York City from 1905 to 1939. A calendar of the file is held at the desk. The Eugene L. Armbruster collection of 14,000 photographs, purchased in 1934, records buildings and their surroundings in Long Island during the period 1890-1930. An equally exceptional collection of about 300 photographs of Long Island taken by Dr. Daniel Berry Austin depicts Dutch Colonial homesteads and other historic sites from about 1899 to 1913. Flatbush, New Utrecht, and Port Washington are particularly well represented in this photographic record of structures which have almost all disappeared. Included with the collection are photographs of Austin's trip to the far West. Thousands of contemporary postcard views of New York City are arranged by subject.

New York City Vertical File

A mounted clipping file of articles from newspapers and magazines arranged by subject (apartment houses, parks, population, etc.) (18 file boxes).

Public Symbols and Personal Arms File

The file consists of 26 file boxes containing pictorial representations of public symbols of the world, including flags, coats-of-arms, and other emblems that symbolize a geographic location, city, state, or county; the material is arranged in alphabetical order by location. An additional 21 file boxes contain representations of personal arms in folders arranged by surname (47 file boxes).

In addition to special indexes and files, the Local History and Genealogy Division has 61 scrapbooks, of which 3 volumes relate to families, 1 to flags, 1 to royalty, and 56 to views of New York City and other localities in the United States.


The 39,000 volumes of genealogy include materials on heraldry, as well as vital records and city directories. Bibliographies, indexes, and general reference works for all nationalities are present, with particularly rich collections of individual and collective English and American genealogical works. European resources are strongest in collective genealogies, although individual genealogies for prominent continental families are included. Genealogical textbooks, guidebooks, manuals, and books of popular instruction are an outstanding feature of the resources. Numerous dictionaries in English and the major Western European languages deal with the origin and meaning of given names and surnames.1

The collection is strong in volumes on the peerage and royal lineages; there is an excellent run of the Almanach de Gotha from 1777. Other Gotha publications are well represented, as are Burke's Peerage, Burke's Landed Gentry, and G. E. Cokayne's Complete Peerage and similar works relating to European nobility. There is an excellent historical collection of publications, yearbooks, and proceedings of American patriotic societies such as the Sons of the Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution, and

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others. The Local History and Genealogy Division has been a depository since 1961 for materials from the New York State Daughters of the American Revolution concerning cemetery, town, and family records, a collection which in 1969 consisted of more than 450 typescript volumes.

Among significant library publications in the field of genealogy are Harold Lancour, A Bibliography of Ship Passenger Lists, 1538-1825 (1937); revised and enlarged by Richard J. Wolfe, with a list of passenger arrival records in the National Archives by Frank E. Bridgers (1963; third edition, second, corrected printing, 1966); George F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland; Their Origin, Meaning, and History (1946; reprinted 1962 and 1971); and Lester J. Cappon, American Genealogical Periodicals; a Bibliography with a Chronological Finding-List (1962; second printing, with geographical finding-list, 1964).

Notable Accessions

The strength of the collections is based upon important gifts which have come to the Research Libraries over the years in addition to their continuing purchases. In 1896 the purchase of the W.P. Robinson collection of American town and family histories (3,221 volumes and 921 pamphlets) formed one of the cornerstones of the holdings. By 1900 a separate catalog for materials on local history and genealogy was located in the Lenox Library, and the books were shelved in a separate area. The Cleveland Dodge gift of some 400 British genealogies and town and county histories came in 1909. In 1916 the widow of Professor Frank Dempster Sherman gave a large collection of materials relating to the Sherman genealogies.2 The John Malcolm Bullock gift of a collection relating to Scottish genealogy and local history was added in 1920. In the early 1950s the Research Libraries purchased the Washburn collection consisting of the office files of Mabel R.T. Washburn and the National Historical Society, Inc. The material includes many unpublished genealogies. In 1958 the most extensive genealogy devoted to one family, that of the Palmers in the United States, was deposited by Nellie Morse Palmer, who had assisted her husband Horace Wilbur Palmer in the preparation of this work in 17 bound volumes totaling 8,220 pages.

Rare Books and Manuscripts

Among rare early genealogies in the Rare Book Division is the Memoirs of Capt. Roger Clap (1731), which contains a short account of the author and his family, qualifying it as the first printed American genealogy. Another early American work is A Genealogy of the Family of Mr. Samuel Stebbins, by Luke Stebbins, (1771).

A body of material in the Manuscripts and Archives Division relates to the American Loyalists during the period of the Revolution. Most important of the items are 60 volumes of transcripts of the original manuscripts, books, and papers of the Commission of Enquiry into the Losses and Services of the American Loyalists (1783-90) preserved with the Audit Office Records in the Public Record Office of England. A microfilm copy is available for public use. The George H. Budke papers in the division contain early records of the history of Rockland and Orange Counties, New York, and the adjoining Bergen County, New Jersey, including much genealogical material.

Typescripts of tombstone inscriptions, indexes of wills, lists of church members, records of marriages, and similar unpublished materials in the Local History and Genealogy Division form a primary source of genealogical information. For example, Gertrude A. Barber's compilations and indexes of New York State records are listed on more than 100 cards in the division catalog. Additional transcripts are the work of Kenneth E. Hasbrouck working in New York State, and Francis F. Spies working in Vermont, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, as well as the aforementioned New York State DAR collections.

Vital Records

Every effort is made to collect the printed or typescript indexes to vital records pertaining to births, marriages, and deaths in the various states of the United States. A printed series worthy of special mention is the index to vital records of New York City, issued by the city, which commenced in 1888. The library receives these indexes with the understanding that the volumes covering births and deaths will be used only for historical and genealogical purposes. The records of marriages, which included only the name of the groom, is no longer published; the last volume was for 1936. Various vital records for the period 1795-1866 are available in the Municipal Archives and Records Center, which was formerly a part of the New York Public Library.

City Directories

The collection of United States city directories through 1869 numbers approximately 1,300 and is of exceptional strength and completeness. Films of the New York City directories are available for public use. A good collection of city directories for the period after 1870 is kept in the Research Libraries Annex at 521 West 43rd Street. The General Research and Humanities Division administers a representative group of current United States city directories, which are held in the Main Reading Room.


The collection of approximately 1,400 volumes, together with scrapbooks, correspondence, and other material, form very strong resources in this area. Major works on heraldry are supplemented by materials on the related subjects of flags, national and royal coats-of-arms, city seals, college seals and colors, and the like. The card catalog in the Local History and Genealogy Division shows more than 2,600 entries for heraldry with a great number of index entries for articles in periodicals and journals; Great Britain and Ireland are the best represented with more than 550 entries. The Slavonic Division catalog holds an additional 120 cards representing items in the Cyrillic alphabet.

The collection is strong in older works as well as in current materials. There are a number of the standard works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in early editions in the Rare Book Division, including the works of John Guillim, Nicholas Upton, and others. Published information

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on current and popular phases of the subject is supplemented by a number of files and special collections. Additional pictorial representations of coats of arms are found in the Spencer Collection's rich holdings of festival books, and books on tournaments; the Spencer Collection also holds European manuscript patents of nobility, carta executoria, and the like. The Mortimer and Anna Neinken collection of some 14,000 antique seals housed in the Manuscripts and Archives Division contains wax impressions of coats of arms and crests of the noble and royal houses of Europe, as well as examples of ecclesiastical seals, guild and city seals, and the like.3

Entries for material on flags total about 660 cards in the Local History and Genealogy Division catalog. The range of coverage is worldwide in the Roman alphabet. Some rarities in the Spencer Collection include a seventeenth-century Japanese "Banners of the Daimyo Families" and two Japanese printed books, one on flags and the other on ships' flags of the world; both date from the mid-nineteenth century. In 1942, Major Chandler Davis gave a most important collection of books, pamphlets, correspondence, and other materials on flags from the library of the late Gherardi Davis. The following year Major Davis added a further group of materials containing in part original colored drawings and photographs of regimental colors of the German and Russian armies; the manuscripts, drawings, and photographs are in the Manuscripts and Archives Division.