24 August 2008

New York: Staten Island photos and Jewish history

Here's a new blog that I've just come across, Staten Island Genealogy. It recently carried a post on how to obtain photos of ancestral homes.

For non-New Yorkers, Staten Island is one of the city's five boroughs (along with Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn). It is sometimes called the "forgotten borough;" until theVerrazano Bridge opened in 1964, the only access was by ferry to New York and New Jersey. The borough's official name is Richmond County.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) photographed, during the 1930s-40s, almost every single building in the five boroughs for tax assessment purposes. The city's Archives Department recognized the value of these images and maintained and restored them.

If you have the address where ancestors lived - available from census records - an image print can be ordered online.

For Staten Islanders, according to the blog:

To identify the exact photo you want from the collection, you can view the microfilm of the images available at the St. George, Staten Island, Library, and obtain the block and lot number, to save a few dollars. Or you can simply order the image on line by inputting the address, and let the city identify the block and lot for an additional $5 fee. For those doing Staten Island genealogy long distance, that’s the best option ... Note that the building must have existed at the time the photos were taken in order to be included in the collection–but for the older buildings, it still possible you can get an image of the residence your ancestors lived in, in 1880.
Order Staten Island (and for other boroughs as well) images here.

For other Staten Island resources - my quick web check discovered that the Brooklyn Public Library has a nice page of resources, including newspaper articles from 1881. The New York Public Library also lists resources and a timeline from 1812.

For Tracing the Tribe's Jewish history buffs, there's "The Jewish Community of Staten Island" (2004, Arcadia Publishing), authored by Jenny Tango, active in the revival of the Jewish Historical Society of Staten Island in 2003.

To see some of her book and its historical photographs, click here.

In 1641, Jacob Saloman received a Dutch land grant there - he also owned property in Brooklyn and Long Island. A possibly Sephardic family farmed there during the 1830s-40s. Sarah Levy (previously of Jamaica, British West Indies). Her will, named seven children and left farmland and tenements in Richmond County to two sons. None were in the 1845 census, according to Tango's book.

The first wave of Jews were German, including the self-styled "first Jew on Staten Island," Moses Greenwald (1848), Abraham and Rachel Almstaedt (1850). Askiel and Doris Isaacs (1868) and had five children; daughter Marie married Reuben Mord who had opened a store there (1881). Mord and Isaacs were founding members in 1884 of B'nai Jeshurun, the first synagogue.

Today, there are some seven synagogues, a JCC and other essential Jewish community institutions.

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