3 Digital Collection Resources for New York

Digital collections are one way to conduct research prior to planning a trip to an ancestral hometown. Make sure to exhaust genealogy subscription websites, local libraries, archives, and historical societies. The following three resources for New York are an example of what could be found when you search for digital collections in the place your ancestor lived. Although these places have great New York collections, they also have items outside the state and country.

1) New York Historical Society Museum & Library


The New York Historical Society Museum & Library founded in 1804 offers “on-site and online visitors a vast collection of art, objects, artifacts, and documents, as well as ongoing collecting programs that demonstrate a broad grasp of history’s enduring importance and its central role in explaining our present day.”

What do they offer online visitors? Their collection includes a digital collection of books and records. Some items of interest to the family historian include:

Ladies Christian Union Records 1850-2001 

“The records of the Ladies' Christian Union include annual reports, minutes, financial and real estate records, correspondence, photographs, biographical writings, membership lists, ephemera, printed brochures, articles, and manuals. The Ladies Christian Union was founded in New York City in 1858 with the aim of creating and maintaining safe, affordable housing for young, unmarried Christian women employed in the New York area. Between the years 1860-1922, the organization owned and operated a total of eight buildings in Manhattan. In 1871, the "Young Ladies Branch" of the Ladies Christian Union established itself as an independent organization known as the "Young Ladies Christian Association," better known today as the "Young Womens Christian Association" (YWCA).”

Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans records, 1836-1972 (bulk 1850-1936) 

"The Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans was founded in 1836 and was originally located on Fifth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets in Manhattan. The Colored Orphan Asylum was among the earliest organizations in the country to provide housing, training, and employment specifically for African American orphans. During the Draft Riots of July 14, 1863, the Colored Orphan Asylum was attacked by a mob. At that time, it housed some 600 to 800 homeless children in a large four story building surrounded by grounds and gardens. The crowd plundered the Asylum, then set fire to the first floor. While the children were evacuated, the building burned to the ground. The records of the Colored Orphan Asylum document the activities of the institution from 1836 to 1972, with the bulk of the records falling between 1850 and 1936."

Highlights from the Map Collections 

"The New York Historical Society's map collection ranges from the 17th century to the present and includes printed and manuscript items. Geographic scope varies by time period, but extends from New York to the entire country. Among the manuscript maps that have been digitized are the unique sketches of projected battle sites of the American Revolution by Robert Erskine and Simeon DeWitt, and a series of maps created by Lawrence Veiller for the Tenement House Committee that document overcrowding in Manhattan in 1899."

To find more digital collections from the New York Historical Society, see their website .


New York Public Library Digital Collection


One of my favorite library digital collections, the New York Public Library Digital Collection, currently includes over 935,700 items that range from genealogically significant items with names and locations to social history items like postcards and menus. Like any of these larger collections, some of the materials are not New York oriented, so they really are resources that all researchers should check out.

Two examples include:

Atlases of New York City 

“NYPL's holdings of real estate and fire insurance atlases dating from the 19th and 20th centuries, showing streets, blocks, tax lots, and land use classifications of New York City's five boroughs and the surrounding metropolitan area.”

Photographic Views of New York City, 1870-1970s 

"Approximately 54,000 New York City photographs (and their captioned versos), primarily of exterior building views and neighborhood scenes, from the 1870s-1970s, arranged by borough and street."


New York Genealogical and Biographical Society 


NYG&B has an amazing collection of online genealogical relevant records that are searchable or browsable. Check out their website for more genealogical resources. A quick perusal of their Collections Catalog gives a glimpse of what researchers with New York ancestors can find.

Albany County Cemetery Records 

Browseable record collection of transcribed gravestone inscriptions. Other county cemetery records can also be found in the digital collection.

Bible Records from the American Bible Society 

Bible records that cannot be found anywhere else. Housed in Manhattan and searchable from this digital collection.

New York Estate Inventory Abstracts 1666-1825 

“The documents compiled in this collection consist of “petitions, letters of renunciation, bills and receipts” regarding the estates of the deceased. Specifically, it details how the state managed the estates that the deceased left behind. What is abstracted here is listed alphabetically according to the name of the decedent."


Find it Online

There are some wonderful digital collections for New York from the New York Historical Society, New York Public Library and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Have New York ancestors? Start with a digital collection prior to planning a research trip to the Big Apple.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.