Article

9 Excellent Resources for New York History Research

There's much more to historical research than old, dusty books.

Published Jun 10, 2022

These nine resources are just a sampling of the vast amount of online research materials that can be utilized to explore the history of New York City. (George Bradford Brainerd (Brooklyn Public Library))
These nine resources are just a sampling of the vast amount of online research materials that can be utilized to explore the history of New York City. (Image Via George Bradford Brainerd (Brooklyn Public Library))

The city of New York has a rich history that's quite unlike any other in the U.S. Over the last 25 years, various websites have been born that host fascinating materials that allow for in-depth research.

For example, let's pretend we're looking for information about a small New York business that used to have a storefront on Broadway. Let's also say it was back in the 1880s, just a few years before the 1894 debut of one of the city's most famous songs, "The Sidewalks of New York."

In a brief span of time, you might be able to find antique memorabilia for sale, newspaper archives, print advertisements, photographs, discussions, and even information on the lives of the people who managed the store.

Here are nine research resources that can help in the effort to dive into the history of New York City.

eBay

The auction website eBay hosts an enormous variety of historical memorabilia and records, including rare books and periodicals from past centuries. (Be careful, however, as some of the old books might punch you in the face with a musty smell.)

Newspapers.com

One of the best resources for New York history research is Newspapers.com. The website hosts archives from more than 23,700 newspapers. The advertising and news of the day from centuries past can often help to inform more about the subject you're researching.

Google Books

Imagine if you wanted to instantly search the text of just about every book written in the last several centuries. Google Books offers that and more. While some books catalogued by the online library might require a full purchase in order to read through pages, Google Books also sometimes offers free previews of pages that show results for your search. This powerful resource can help find detailed information on historical subjects. (We recommend using the desktop version of Google Books to more easily filter down the specific years you'd like to search.)

Online Library Collections

The websites for the New York Public Library Digital Collections and the Brooklyn Public Library Digital Collections both host unique documentation, photographs, and illustrations from New York history.

Museums

New York City is so big that there are too many great museums to name. However, for starters, we recommend the New-York Historical Society Museum & Website, the South Street Seaport Museum, and the Museum of the City of New York.

Facebook Groups

Some Facebook groups can be quite useful in New York history research. For example, the Research of Families and Photos group has helpful members who are happy to look into your questions about historical matters.

City Directories

The New York Public Library hosts archived city directories going all the way back to 1786. These priceless, information-filled books provide names, occupations, work addresses, and home addresses. For some people, these directories may be the only thing left that can prove they ever existed.

Ancestry.com

When people think of Ancestry.com, they're likely thinking about finding their own family history. However, Ancestry.com is also a powerful resource for New York history research. Census records, birth records, death records, immigration records, newspaper archives, and other helpful data are all hosted on the website. The website also allows you to search some past city directories by name and address, which isn't currently available on library websites.

Historical Vital Records

The government of the city of New York allows for the free searches of birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage records for the years between 1855 and 1949. We recommend choosing to search by last name in order to more quickly find results.

These nine resources are just a sampling of the vast amount of online research materials that can be used to explore the history of New York City. Some of these websites can also be used to research other large cities. Those other cities also have their own digital collections for libraries, city directories, and museums, too.

This page is part of an ongoing effort by the Snopes newsroom to teach the public the ins and outs of online fact-checking and, as a result, strengthen people's media literacy skillsMisinformation is everyone’s problem. The more we can all get involved, the better job we can do combating it. Have a question about how we do what we do? Let us know.

Jordan Liles is a Snopes reporter with expertise in investigating misinformation, inauthentic social media activity, and scams.

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