18 August 2006

At the ICJG: House Hunting

If you live or work in a Manhattan building built after 1866, you can often find very detailed information on the structure, including building applications, architect, owner and even tenant lists, according to Tony Robins, who offered an Urban Genealogy session.

The author, historian and tour leader has spent 25 years digging through dusty archives to unearth building histories.

Many traditional genealogists are beginning to investigate the buildings where their ancestors lived, and research the people who lived there.

Just a few years ago, all work had to be done in person, but today's technology provides increasing online resources, the focus of his session.

For 20 years, he has taught the subject at the Municipal Art Society, www.mas.org. He's working on an urban genealogy guidebook, and provides many useful links for online information on his Web site, www.urbangenealogy.com; click on the 2006 Jewish Genealogy Conference link.

Session attendee Jonina Duker of Maryland, who has limited mobility, took his class seven years ago, and is delighted with the new online resources. The class, she says, offers ideas about sources and helps students think "out of the box."

Sources include archives, libraries and municipal resources. City land records date to the 1700s; a little known resource is tax assessment records from as far back as the late 1700s. For one house with tax records dated 1822, Robins retrieved the name of the master builder, the buyer’s name and tenants’ names.

"You’ll never know what you’ll find," Robins adds.

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