I received a wonderful, last minute opportunity to travel to New York City with my husband for his business trip the week before Thanksgiving. Of course, I wanted to sight-see and do all the typical first-timer tourist things. But, I also wanted to make my trip personalized by focusing on genealogy research opportunities available in the city. After all, my husband would be working a large part of the time, so I could enjoy some uninterrupted family history pursuits. Here are some highlights from my amazing visit in NYC.
A Genealogist Visits NYC
With only two weeks to prepare for my trip to New York, I had to plan quickly for all the things I wanted to do there. There were a few archives and libraries that I would have loved to research at, but my short notice did not give me enough time to arrange access and request materials from closed stacks. These included the National Archives, the New-York Historical Society (although I did spend half a day in the museum portion of the society building), and The Morgan Library & Museum. Others could be pulled off last minute: the New York Public Library Milstein Division of U.S., Local History and Genealogy, NYC Municipal Archives, Ellis Island and the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
After completing my list of locations to visit and research at, I needed to prepare some names, dates, and records that I wanted to search for. My husband and I don’t actually have any direct ancestors who lived in NYC, but we do have “ancestral cousins” that immigrated from Ireland in the 1850s and 1860s through the ports of New York and part of the siblings from the Finlay family stayed in NYC (Brooklyn to be exact). The other part of the family went on to Ohio, where a large group from the same part of Ireland also ended up. I spent time preparing a timeline of all I knew about these NYC siblings so I could use them as my subjects for exploring the resources available in the NYC libraries and archives. I will go into more details on a few of these research experiences in the coming weeks.
New York Public Library Milstein Division of U.S., Local History and Genealogy:
In order to use many of the materials available at the NYPL, a library card is required. The process to obtain a card was very simple, though. Residents and non-residents alike can fill out an online application for a library card. Once I arrived, I picked my library card up at the customer service desk. The Milstein Division of the library is located on the first floor, Room 121, of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The entire Schwarzman Building has stunning architecture, and the Milstein Division is no exception. I spent time in the main reading room of the Milstein department and some time two doors over in the Maps department. (More on research at the NYPL to come in a future post.)
NYC Municipal Archives:
The Municipal Archives is housed in the same building with the Courthouse. Therefore, when you enter, you are subject to an airport-style security entrance. The Archives is on the main floor around to the right from the entrance. My research here went quickly and smoothly, with the preparations I had done previously. (More on this in a future post.) Very close by is the National Archives building, which I walked past, but did not enter due to lack of time to prepare for researching here.
My husband and I visited the museum at Ellis Island and really took time to read and explore all the exhibits. All of our ancestors came before the time period when Ellis Island served as the entrance port for immigrants, although many of them came through the port at New York. This gave us a very real and personal view of what many immigrants experienced as new arrivals to the U.S.
Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn:
The NYC Finlays were all buried in this beautiful cemetery, one of the most magnificent cemeteries I have ever visited. My husband and I barely squeezed in our visit to Green-Wood between our trip to Ellis Island and our Broadway show, The Lion King, later in the evening. When we arrived at Green-Wood it was a mere hour before the gates were to close for the day, and of course, our family was buried at the back of the massive grounds. So, in the dusk light and drizzling rain, my husband and I “power walked” as fast as possible to the section of the cemetery where the Finlays were interred. In the dim light, weathered headstones, and limited time, we were unable to locate the exact plot and/or headstones we were looking for. At last I admitted that we were out of time. I stood in the center of the section and took a panorama photo facing each direction. It was the best we could do under the circumstances. We made it back out the front gate with minutes to spare before the guard locked it for the night. The Cemetery holds a collection of records for those buried there, and offers research services for those records. I will be ordering a search through the cemetery’s collection for any records related to the Finlays buried in Section 168, Lot 17408. I am very interested to see what other details those records hold.
Over the course of my week in NYC, I visited several locations of historic interest as well: St Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity Church, The Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Memorial, The American Museum of Natural History. And, of course, we did plenty of tourist activities: The Lion King on Broadway, shopping at Rockefeller Center and Times Square, watching preparations for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, walking through Central Park and the Brownstone neighborhoods west of the park, etc., etc. It was a magnificent treat to be able to take this trip. I came home thoroughly fulfilled and exhausted. I logged over 45 miles walking that week, plus dozens of trips through the subway (my husband said by the end of the week that I was “Queen of the Subway”).
Just got home in the wee hours this morning from NYC. I was there to sing in Carnegie Hall so rehearsals kept me from doing any research but did love walking around, soaking up all the atmosphere.
Mary, what an honor to sing at Carnegie Hall! Congratulations. Yes, the atmosphere of NYC does have to be soaked up, doesn’t it? I have never been anywhere quite like it.
What a wonderful story of your trip to NYC. I smiled when you wrote of the cemetery. I visited the Catholic cemetery in Brooklyn the last time we visited, and the walk to the gravesite was very long, too. Plus the long walk from the subway station. Cemetery visits are much better with a car. But you have given me many ideas of places to research the next time we visit our daughter. Thank you!
Yes, we wished for a car to get through the cemetery that day. Luckily the walk between the subway and Green-Wood Cemetery was only a block. Good luck with your future NYC research. I’d love to hear about it after you visit again.