Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New York Public Library Online -- Part Two

The New York Public Library main building during late stage construction in 1908, the lion statues not yet installed at the entrance
When you begin research in a large library, you should not expect that you will find what you are looking for in a neat, tidy pile somewhere in the library. Library collections are cataloged primarily by subject and then physically stored in the library by their catalog entries. Unfortunately, when items are cataloged, items with similar topics and interest to researchers may end up in different parts of the library. For example, you may be looking for records about your ancestor in Pennsylvania. The library may have cataloged land and property records under a primary entry for Pennsylvania and then under land and property. But a record, such as a military record for your ancestor may have been cataloged under military records and then Pennsylvania and be in a completely different part of the library. In addition, neither the land and property records nor the military records are going to be cataloged as "genealogy" records.

In searching online for digital records, you face the same type of problems you face when working in person in a library. The digital items you are trying to find my have been tagged in ways that you would not normally associate with genealogical research.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has an extensive online collection of digital records and maps.

The NYPL digital collections are divided into Divisions, Collections, and individual items. You can search for keywords (catalog entries) but if that is all that you do, you will likely miss important items. The online collections include articles and databases, prints and photographs, an archives portal and the digital collections. Here is screenshot of the Digital Collections webpage.

For example, in the Digital Collections page, I searched for my surname, Tanner, and found 286 items.

But the only way to tell if any of these items were of interest was to scroll down through all of the items and look at any that seemed interesting. In some cases, I had to do further Google searches online to figure out what it was that I found. I have to admit that I did find some things of interest, but none that had anything to do with my particular Tanner family line. More general searches will bring up many more items. I might note that out of the 286 items found, 117 were in the public domain.

One important aid to doing research online or physically in a library is to have several specific research goals. You may conclude that searching the library is not a valuable use of your time, but this conclusion would be a mistake. Everyone has a multitude of potential surnames to research and continued researching will almost always find important information often in the form of items that are quite unexpected.

For genealogists, the most interesting and helpful digital collections may be the large map collection. Many of these maps are available online. Here is a description of the map collection:
The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division is one of the world’s premier map collections in terms of size, scope, unique holdings, diversity and intensity of use. Established in 1898, our holdings include more than 433,000 sheet maps and 20,000 books and atlases published between the 15th and 21st centuries. The collections range from the global to the local scale and support the learning and research needs of a wide variety of users.
One useful tool developed by the library is the NYPL Map Warper. Here is the description of this useful tool:
The NYPL Map Warper is a tool for digitally aligning ("rectifying") historical maps from the NYPL's collections to match today's precise maps. Visitors can browse already rectified maps or assist the NYPL by aligning a map. Play the video above to tour the site and learn how to rectify a map yourself.
The process is fair detailed and complex, but the results allow you to overlay an old map over a new, satellite view and see where the old map's features line up with the satellite view. Here is a sample.

The Archive Portal also has an extensive collection of online digitized pages. Here is a screenshot.

Again, searching for my surname, I found the following in the Archives Portal.

In my case, I have had a lot of relatives who lived in New York State and I could search for more records.

Here is the first part of this series

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this detailed discussion. The NYPL site is so vast, but with your techniques, I have a better idea of where to begin.