19 July 2008

NY library gets major gen collection

When the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society sold its four-floor city townhouse last year, society members and others wondered what would happen to its extensive library.

Today, the New York Times reported that the New York Public Library has received the G&B's 75,000 volumes, 30,000 manuscripts and 22,000 reels of microfilm, which will expand its already extensive genealogical collection.

The G&B has now bought a city office condominium. It plans to focus on grant-giving, tours, lectures and other means of encouraging genealogical research. One of the society's first grants was about $1 million to the NYPL to fund a four-person staff to process and catalog the collection over two years.

Combining the G&B collection with the NYPL genealogical holdings will create, according to society chair Waddell W. Stillman, "one of the world's largest and most accessible genealogical libraries." The venture fills the G&B two-prong wish: members would have access and the collection would be preserved.

G&B was founded in 1869 and moved into the recently sold building in 1929. Early members were interested in 17th-18th century Dutch and English roots. Holdings include censuses, deeds, baptisms, births, deaths and wills. However, after WWII, the group had almost disappeared with members conflicted about its direction, despite the increasing popularity of genealogy following the major impact of "Roots," Ellis Island's restoration and database, and commercial websites devoted to family history.

G&B now hopes to evolve into an umbrella group to encourage and coordinate research. For those who are interested in the society's portrait collection, its future is being negotiated with the New York Historical Society.

According to the NYPL's local history and genealogy division chief Ruth Carr, it received 56,000 visitors and 1,200 mail inquiries last year alone.

Among those accessing resources are professional and amateur genealogists, art historians, and others. Carr herself used them to trace her father's 18th century roots. G&B's collection incudes Suffolk County deeds dating from 1660, Hempstead's cemetery and church records 1725-1850 and other groups. NYPL already held thousands of photos of Long Island churches, gravestones and old houses. All of this helps historians and others to understand the times in which their ancestors lived.

William Stingone, the library’s Charles J. Liebman curator of manuscripts, pointed to a 19th-century book from the Emigrant Savings Bank in the library’s collection, which included the birthdates, occupations and other information on depositors. It was called a “test book” and, the bank used it much the way Web sites do today when they ask security questions about a visitor’s favorite color or first pet’s name, to verify identities when money was being withdrawn.

The book “ended up being a source of information, though that was never intended,” Mr. Stingone said.

Read the complete story here.

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