Thomas J. Watson Library

The Libraries of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Genealogy Resources – Guide

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Description: This class is intended to make researchers aware of the resources available for conducting scholarly genealogy research at the Watson Library. Among the resources to be discussed are Heritage Quest (US Census records), the New York Times archive, and American Periodical Series Online. We will also look at prominent online genealogy sites like The class will concentrate on resources for the United States but will include a limited number of resources for Europe and Asia.

This class focuses on scholarly genealogy research; a second genealogy class is planned for the fall which will include resources for researching personal family histories.

Class Level: Intermediate – I have some familiarity with the Watson Library and am looking for resources beyond the basics.

Definition of Genealogy from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary Unabridged:

1 : an account or history of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor or ancestors or from older forms : an enumeration of ancestors and their descendants in the natural order of succession
2 : regular descent of a person, family, or group of organisms from a progenitor or older form : PEDIGREE, LINEAGE
3 : a study of family pedigrees and the methods of investigation of them
4 : an account of the descent of property with respect to its previous owners

“gene•al•o•gy” Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary Unabridged [Accessed June 3, 2009].

For access to Watson Library resources outside of the museum, you must have a valid library account. Follow the instructions under “My Library Account” on the portal to log in.

VITAL RECORDS (birth, marriage, death)

Vital records are often the first type of records that genealogists begin their research with because they offer insight to an individual’s basic information. They record life events and important milestones.

Birth records will usually include information such as the proper child’s name, gender, date and place born, and the parents’ names. Sometimes details like the parent’s birth locations as well as occupation may also appear.

Marriage records will usually show both the full names of the bride and groom, date and place, and sometimes the ages as well as the religious denomination of the bride and groom.

The death records of an individual are equally important and can offer additional details on how the individual may have lived. Information such as age, marital status, cause of death, date and place of death and burial, and at times the occupation, the parents’ names and their birthplaces. The more recent the death record, the more information can be gleaned.

Be aware that issues such as legibility may arise and as government regulation evolve; different types of information may have been recorded.



Since 1790, the US Federal Census has been conducted every ten years. Data is available for each census up to 1930 – there is a 72 year privacy rule for census records before the next decade’s data is released. By that rule, the 1940 census will be made public in 2012.

Things to keep in mind when searching census records:
1. 99% of the 1890 US census records were destroyed in a fire in 1921. Only 6,160 people out of the 1890 population of 62,979,766 are listed. has developed an 1890 Census Substitute using an assortment of data from national and local sources (more on below)
2. The first six censuses (1790 – 1840) list only the names of the heads of household, though age brackets for males and females in each household are included.
3. 1830 – 1850 censuses are not indexed, and therefore can only be browsed by locality (ex: Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County NY, 1840)
4. From 1850 on, the names of ALL members of a household should be listed in each census
5. From 1850 on (with the exception of 1890), age, sex, race, birthplace of each person is listed.
6. From 1880 on, relationship of each member of the household to the head, the birthplaces of each family member, and birthplace of the parents, are listed.
7. Most of the records are hand-written and digitally scanned from microfilm. This may or may not present problems in how the records were transcribed, and/or problems in reading the digital scan.


This database contains the complete set of U.S. Federal Census Records from 1790-1930 and the searchable full-text of over 25,000 family and local histories. This collection also assembles banking and military records, genealogies, primary source materials, and genealogical and local history serials.

Choose Search Census from the list of options.

Basic Search is the default. There are also tabs for advanced search options, and near the top of the screen we have the option to search or browse. The year or years you are searching will help determine which of these options you’ll want to choose – for example: the census tables from 1830, 1840 and 1850 are not searchable – you can only browse.

Refer to The Census Book (pdf file) for a brief summary of each census. Section 5 of The Census Book lists what questions were asked, which states were included, etc. and a blank copy of each census form showing the categories in a clearer format – From the basic or advanced search screens, click on “Help” on the top right. In the Help Table of Contents, select “Learn more about the census”

Or, from the Browse screen, select either “Help with the Federal Census” or “What you should know about the Census.”

Other HeritageQuest resources:

• Search Books – enables you to do a full-text search of over 24,000 publications of family and local histories (this is similar to GoogleBooks discussed below).

• Search PERSI – The PERiodical Source Index – allows you to search periodicals related to people or to local history. However, this is only a listing of documents, to read the actual periodicals; you must fill out a form to request and send it to the Allen County Public Library.

• Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files – records from the late 18th and early 19th centuries

• Freedman’s Bank Records (1865-1874) – this was a bank established for freed slaves during Reconstruction Era

• U.S. Serial Set – These are records of formal petitions to the US Congress in support of, or in memorial to, individual citizens. For example: A tribute to a fallen soldier.


ANCESTRY.COM is one of the principal websites for genealogy research and contains databases of vital, census, military, and immigration records from around the world, with extensive holdings for the United States and the United Kingdom. New genealogical resources are added to nearly every week.

Access to the full range of resources on is available with a paid subscription – prices currently range from $12.95 – $29.95 per month. If you are planning an in-depth project, it may be worthwhile to pay for a short-term membership.

Many libraries, including every branch of the NYPL, offers free access to Ancestry Library Edition – the subscription version of for libraries. Because of contractual issues there are, however a few databases not available in Ancestry Library Edition that are available only to paid members. Some of these databases may be available through other subscription resources either in the Watson Library, NYPL, or area university libraries.

Note: Watson Library does not have full access to this resource but you can access the website at Searching is FREE but to view most results, subscription is required. Due to network security restrictions, many of Ancestry’s components are NOT accessible here in the museum.

Basic search in’s homepage allows you to start searching right away. To do a broad search, simply go to the SEACRH drop-down menu located at the top left of the homepage beneath the logo. Click on Search, than on “Search all Records”-this will allow you to do a broad search on your individual by filling out basic information for searching. If you want to search through a specific collection, click on featured databases from the SEARCH drop-down menu.

For example, we can search to see if there are any records regarding “Alfred Stieglitz”. Again, start with what you know. After entering his first and last name, birth date and death date in the basic search fields, press SEARCH.

The results will yield a variety of photos attached to his profile as well as government documents that may pertain to him. To search a specific category, you can go to the left menu bar and narrow down your results by clicking on that featured category. You can also further refine your search by clicking into any of the fields located in the Refine Search menu on the middle left of the webpage.

In order to view scanned documents associated with Alfred Stieglitz’s profile you will have to be subscribed. You will not be able to view or install Ancestry’s image viewer on-site at the Metropolitan Museum.

For instructions in conducting a more advanced search, you can access the Learning Center drop-down menu on’s homepage, located on at the top middle of the screen. The Learning Center offers tutorials on how to get started, how to read records, and an FAQ.


Newspapers and Periodicals

For instruction on how to search through the following resources, see the instruction class guide for Finding Primary Resources.

New York Times (free via ProQuest 1851-2005) – (Watson Resource)American Periodical Series Online – (Watson Resource)


Since they are both provided by ProQuest, we can search both of these databases at once.

Other newspapers & periodicals available through Watson:

Times – London (1785-1985) (Watson Resource)

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers (free resource linked from portal)

More Newspapers can be found under Newspapers in the Electronic Resources section of the portal.

Watson Library Digital Resources

Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)

ECCO, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, is a digital collection which includes full text access to over 30,000 English language and foreign language titles printed in the United Kingdom, along with thousands of important works from the Americas, between 1701 and 1800. ECCO contains the fully searchable, digitized image of a variety of materials including books, auction catalogs, artists’ biographies and handbooks, treatises on painting and architecture, pamphlets, broadsides, and ephemera. Our subscription includes titles in the Fine Arts and Social Sciences.

Example: Searching for “new york” (including quotes) yielded this as one of the results:[Longworth’s American almanack, New-York register, and city directory, for the twenty-fourth year of American independence.] New-York, 1799. 407pp. Social Sciences

Farber Gravestone Collection (American Antiquarian Society)

The Farber Gravestone Collection is an unusual resource containing over 13,500 images documenting the sculpture on more than 9,000 gravestones, most of which were made prior to 1800, in the Northeastern part of the United States. (Uses the LUNA browser to view images – make sure popups are not blocked in your web browser)

Though this database pertains to the sculpture on gravestones, the images are very high quality and the information on the gravestones can be easily read, which may make it helpful in researching names, birth and death dates.

Biographical Resources in Watson Library
The Watson Library has a number of biographical resources that can help serve as a starting point for research into a person’s background.

Several classes have been held on using our electronic biographical resources. Guides for these classes can be found on the Instruction page of the library portal in particular:

Finding Information on Objects in The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Guide
Journals, Exhibition Catalogs, Reviews, Festschriften, Newspapers and More – Guide
• New Biographical Resources: “Get a Life”
o Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon (AKL) or World Biographical Dictionary of Artists – Guide
o World Biographical Information System (WBIS) – Guide
o Marquis Who’s Who on the Web – Guide
o Biographical Resources Overview

Maps and Geography
Maps can be used as aids in your genealogical research. For example: using historical maps to find locations that no longer exist or have changed names. There are links to a number of resources on maps on the Watson Library Portal.

Oxford Reference Online Premium:
Full-text versions of many Oxford reference books that may be helpful at the beginning of a genealogy search. For example:

The Oxford dictionary of local and family history / David Hey
A to genealogical terms that may come up during your research.
Concise dictionary of world place-names / Everett-Heath, John
“This dictionary gives the history, meanings, and origin of an enormous range of country, region, island, city, and town names from around the world.”
Dynasties of the world / John E. Morby
Lists of ruling families from around the world and throughout history.

The full list of titles available through Oxford Reference Online Premium is available on Watsonline.


The Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy at the New York Public Library
Located in Room 121 of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue 42nd Street.

“The Milstein Division collects materials documenting American History on the national, state and local level, Genealogy, Heraldry, Personal and Family Names, and Flags.” In 2008, the New York Genealogical and Biographic Society donated their 75,000 volume collection to the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library. The NYPL also offers a number of classes on conducting genealogy research throughout the year.

List of Genealogy databases at the New York Public Library

United States National Archives – National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

National Archives Regional Facilities

Provide access to both federal and area-specific microfilm and original records at branches across the United States. Also conducts workshops on genealogy research. Facilities in the Northeastern US include the following: New York, NY ; Pittsfield, MA ; Boston, MA ;  Philadelphia, PA

National Archives of the United Kingdom

Information on census records – conducted every ten years – from 1841 through 1911 – for England and Wales; passenger lists for departures and arrivals to the UK from 1878-1960; vital records; and wills.

Within the National Archives, UK website: Research Guides A-Z, lists the types of records that may aid in research, provides some background information about the record, and suggests print and online sources:

Google Books
Some family histories are also available via Google Books. Many older items are copyright-free and are likely to be available for full-text view and/or download.

Go to If you have a google account, you can sign in. If you don’t have an account and don’t wish to create one, you can just begin searching at this point. Use terms like “family register”, “genealogy”, “ancestors”, etc. You can include names, locations, and/or dates, if known.

Once you have a list of results, you can narrow it down by going to “Showing” just above the results list and selecting “Limited preview and full view” or “full view”.

Example: The Vyner Family History – traces the family to their medieval roots. [Robert Vyner was a banker, Mayor of London, and king’s goldsmith in the 17th century (article in Oxford’s Dictionary of National Biography – a Watson Library Resource)]

The supplement of the Vyner Family History, also in Google Books, discusses a dispute about the inheritance of land and title that originated with Robert Vyner’s son Thomas.

In Google Books, you can click through each page, view pages side-by-side, or see the entire book as a set of thumbnail images. One can also view a document in plain text, or download and save as a pdf. If you have a free google account, you can save each book in a personal online library. There’s also link to Worldcat so you can find the physical book in a library.

Both Heritage Quest and Google Books contain genealogy and personal family history books. In both, you can save and download books as pdfs, or print a page from a book. Google Books is simply a bit more robust.

Related article: Ancestry Magazine discusses the evolution of published family genealogies

LDS Family Search
FamilySearch is the largest genealogy organization in the world. You can access their resources and services online at Highlights of their collection include over 2 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 700,000 microfiche; 360,000 books, serials, and other formats. You can search records from the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. A majority of the records contain information about persons who lived before 1930.

Before the Five-Borough City: The Old Cities, Towns and Villages That Came Together to Form “Greater New York”
From the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. A brief history of the formation of the city. Includes the names of former towns, villages, etc. Explains why parts of the Bronx were part of Westchester until they became part of NYC:

Worldcat has a pdf tutorial on using their database for genealogy research:

InterLibrary Loan for Genealogists
Offers some tips on libraries that permit ILL requests for their genealogical materials.

Handbooks for Foreign Genealogical Research
From the Library of Congress, also gives a brief history of immigration to the US

Ellis Island – Port of New York Passenger Search
Database of ship’s registries and passenger lists. Free, but requires registration.

Allen County Public Library

Documenting the American South

Bibliotheque virtuelle humaniste (humanities digital library)
About 2000 documents from 15th-17th centuries coming from local older collections. 10 to 20 % are in text mode. Free access. French Language only.

Example: Under “Bibliothèque virtuelle de” (middle right of page), select “Histoire”, then Héraldique” for several fully scanned 15th century Heraldic books.

German Genealogy
Information and resources on tracing ancestry in Germany

Österreichische Nationalbibliothek – National Library of Austria
Research tips for genealogists researching in or about Austria

Portal and online community for researching Jewish ancestry

Within JewishGen: Info Files Index – – links to libraries, vital records databases, immigration information, and other sites

Nikkei Ancestry – Japanese Genealogy Information Center
Information for tracing Japanese-American ancestry

Cyndi’s List
This website contains an exhaustive list for beginning genealogy research. Included are a variety of indexes which can be searched alphabetically and topically, or browsed. Also includes links to many foreign genealogy websites.

Association of Professional Genealogists (APG)
The APG is a non-profit organization in the United States that supports the work of both professional and amateur genealogists. The website offers information on finding a research specialist, on the association’s educational conferences, and their publications.

Databases linked from (NEW) adds and updates databases on a continual basis. Some recent additions of note (as of August 2009):

Hungary: Jewish Census of 1848 / Conscriptio Judaerum. 1848. (Free Resource)
A survey of Jews in Greater Hungary compiled after the Revolution of 1848. Includes parts of Slovakia, Croatia, Ukraine and Romania.

Miriam Weiner Eastern European Archival Database (Free Resource)
Archival holdings from archives and historical institutions in Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Israel and Romania.  Data is mostly in Russian.

Canadian Census Collection (1851-1916)
Fully searchable and indexed database of historic Canadian Census records.

Australian Convict Transportation Registers
Lists of ships and English convicts transported to the penal colony in Australia beginning in 1787.  By the time the practice was abolished in 1868, approximately 160,000 people had been sent to Australia.

Full access to the Register for the First Fleet  is free (free login required). Full access to the other Registers requires an subscription.

Australian Convict Transportation Registers – First Fleet, 1787-1788 (Free Resource)
Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Second Fleet, 1789-1790 Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Third Fleet, 1791
Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868


Originally posted 6/25/2009
Last edited 8/5/09
Angela Washington and Joan Jocson