Municipal Library Notes: Spotlight on the Sleuthability Virtual Genealogy Conference
Recently, Marcia Kirk presented two talks at Sleuthability, a virtual conference organized by the BBNY Group, an organization focused on Irish genealogy, history and DNA. The conference included 10 speakers representing the U.S., Ireland and Scotland, and included 17 thirty-minute pre-recorded talks along with live chats. The attendees were from the United States, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, and England.
The following is a summary of Ms. Kirk’s two presentations: Vital Records at the Municipal Archives, and Lesser Known Resources at the Department of Records and Information Services.
Vital Records at the Municipal Archives
By Marcia Kirk, Research Associate
Vital records record the major events in a person’s life: birth, marriage or death. The Municipal Archives’ holdings include all extant civil vital records for the five Boroughs of New York City, as well as for some of the towns and villages which were consolidated with the City in 1898. The Municipal Archives holds all births reported prior to 1909, and deaths prior to 1949. (For later years, contact the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene) The Archives marriage record collection includes all wedding events reported prior 1950. (For later years, contact the Office of the City Clerk) For a complete list of holdings visit our website.
Thanks to the Genealogy Federation of Long Island (The German Genealogy Group and the Italian Genealogy Group), most of the vital records are now searchable online at no charge: www.germangenealogygroup.org and www.italiangen.org. Popular family history sites www.Ancestry.com and www.FamilySearch also provide access to the indexes.
The above birth certificate is for a set of twins. Typically, there would be separate certificates for each child. In this case, the Department of Health recorded both names and stamped two numbers on one certificate.
Delayed Birth Certificate of Rosa Waugh. Rosa was born on 2 April 1900. However, her mother did not report the birth until October 3, 1906 – 6 ½ years after her birth.
Many well-known people were born, died or were married in New York City. This marriage certificate records the union of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his cousin Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905.
This Affidavit for License to Marry signed by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre is just one part of the three-part City Clerk Marriage License series. The other documents are the marriage license and marriage certificate. This form is used to verify that there is no impediment to the marriage from either party. It is one of the few governmental forms that lists the woman’s occupation.
This is the 1948 death certificate of George Herman “Babe” Ruth. He died at the age of 53. His profession and industry listed as “retired. Baseball player”. Claire Ruth, his wife, was the informant and he is interred in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County.
Lesser Known Resources at the Department of Records and Information Services
by Marcia Kirk, Research Associate
There are additional records in the Municipal Archives that could be useful to the family historian. Like the vital records, these records were not created with the idea that people, many years in the future, would be using them to learn about their ancestors. The records discussed are, in most cases, available on microfilm. Some have been digitized and others are available in original hard-copy format and must be ordered in advance.
In addition to death records, the Municipal Archives also holds records from the Coroner and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). These records are created when there is a death that may or may not be by natural causes and further investigation is required. The original coroners’ ledger books are no longer extant, but microfilm is available and accessible for research at the Archives.
The 1908 Coroners’ Inquest above details the accidental death of a 36-year old man born in Ireland, struck by a rock “following blast” on December 30th.
Another collection that contains death records is the New York County Bodies in Transit registers, 1859-1894. These are records of the deceased as they transited through Manhattan on the way to their respective place of burial. Within this digitized collection one will find the records of John Brown (Vol. 1, December 4, 1859); Abraham Lincoln (Vol. 3, April 24, 1865); and in Volume 2, on February 4, 1864, the body of Jethro Ketchum, age 26, born in Dutchess County, and who died of typhus fever in Richmond County (Staten Island) was en route to Poughkeepsie, NY in the company of Wm. Allen. This may be the only extant record of the death of Jethro Ketchum. The Municipal Archives has very few death records for the Civil War period and only for Brooklyn and Manhattan. Other records relating to death included the Estate Inventories, 1784-1836 and 1830-1859; and the Letters of Guardianship collection, 1811-1913, from the New York County Surrogates Court.
Entry on 24th of April for Lincoln, Abraham age 56 years and 2 months. Born in Kentucky, died in
Washington, DC, from a pistol shot.
The Almshouse Ledger collection, 1758-1959 is a treasure trove of information. The over 400 volumes contain the records of the city-run institutions on Blackwell’s Island including the Almshouses, Workhouses, Penitentiary, and various hospitals. They also contain information on individuals in census records and inmate records. A sampling of the volumes has been digitized. There is a comprehensive finding aid containing links to the digitized volumes.
Record of Inmates, Almshouse Collection. These records can contain an individual’s occupation, education, religion, county of birth, maiden name of mother, a list of relatives, and more.
The Municipal Archives collection includes the 1816, 1819 and 1821 Jury Census conducted by the New York County Clerk at the behest of the Board of Alderman. The 1821 is not truly a Jury Census as it was required by the New York State Legislature but was also used as a jury census. The 1890 Police census is often used as a replacement for the 1890 US Federal Census that was lost to a fire. It is the only census record for New York County in 1890 and is available on microfilm.
1816 Jury Census for the 1st Ward. Broadway from house #1 to house #58 had 274 inhabitants. Some of the inhabitants were not qualified to serve due to their age.
A page from the 1890 Police Census. The address of the individual or family is necessary to identify an entry in the census.
Other collections of interest to the family historian are the records of the criminal courts and district attorneys. These are some of the Municipal Archives’ most sought after records. This voluminous material will be be discussed in upcoming newsletters and blog posts.
A page from the NY County DA Record of Cases.
The presentation also highlighted the Property Card and Tax Photo collections. Both were projects of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for the Department of Finance and used for tax purposes. The records are available for all five boroughs. The Property Card, 1939-1990, provides, in most cases, a picture of the property, a small map, and tax assessment information. The Tax Photos are just that, photographs of properties. They were taken during two periods: 1939-1941 (black and white photos) and 1983-1988 (color). The Property Cards have not been microfilmed or digitized and must be ordered in advance from the archives, the block and lot number is required. The Tax Photo collection has been digitized and can be found in our online collection. Its best to know the block and lot number of the property before searching, however, the 1980s photos can be searched by street address.
Tax Photo of 7 Middagh Street, Brooklyn. Block 209, lot 17. In 1931 it was assessed by ALB for $14,000.
1940 Tax Photo. Queens, Block 3176, lot 45 or 89-70 Cooper Avenue.
Both talks were very well received. Many comments mentioned how valuable the information was to their research and expressed interest in visiting us or utilizing the DORIS resources in the future.
Some of the information presented at the conference will be included in DORIS’ Lunch and Learn series on September 7, 2021 at 1 pm. The program lasts an hour and includes a Question and Answer period.
Municipal Library Vertical Files Collection: Volunteers
by Christine Bruzzese, Director, Municipal Library
Volunteers have always provided knowledge, experience and energy to municipalities like New York City. Currently NYC Service partners with communities, businesses and organizations to offer volunteer and service opportunities to interested New Yorkers. The vertical files collection in the Municipal Library includes materials from the Mayor’s Voluntary Action Center, established under the Lindsay administration and other materials of interest.
A brochure from the Mayor’s Voluntary Action Center during the Beame administration:
An issue of the Mayor’s Voluntary Action Center newsletter describing help for AIDS patients and their families and friends.
A description of the Increase the Peace Volunteer Corps during the Dinkins administration. This program recruited volunteers from across the city to serve in communities and promote awareness and understanding of cultural diversity and community relations.
For more recent publications, please check the DORIS/Municipal Library Government Publications Portal for reports from agencies such NYC Service.
Relocation of Municipal Archives Offsite Collections
by Sylvia Kollar, Director, Municipal Archives
For the past several years, the Department of Records and Information Services has been working with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to plan and design a new offsite storage and research center for the Municipal Archives. The project was complicated, requiring temperature and humidity control zones for different collections, including cold and frozen storage for videotape and photo negatives.
Since the mid-1980s, the Municipal Archives offsite collections have been stored in a dusty warehouse in the Brooklyn Industry City complex. Although the space was an improvement on prior off-site storage locations (a pier along the Hudson River, the Brooklyn Navy Yard), it lacked climate-control. Items requested by researchers were shipped to our 31 Chambers offices for review.
By September, the 160,000 cubic feet of our offsite collections will be located in the new facility. It is in the same Industry City complex – but a different building in space that has been totally renovated and equipped with the latest climate controls. Staff will be onsite processing collections, working in the new digital lab, and acquiring historical collections from City agencies. We expect to open the research center for the public in October.