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With its five boroughs brought together into one big, beautiful city in 1898, New York City is steeped in incredible stories from its long history. This history gives the Big Apple and its residents a sense of legacy and importance in weaving together culture, religion, ethnicities, and languages.
It is common for homeowners to be curious about a new building they have acquired or plan to buy. Additionally, people tend to research the building they work in or live in. Some people also often set off on a quest to learn about other buildings and monuments. The main areas of interest of such people are to find more information about the previous owners and more details about the history of the building. To understand your little slice of the city’s history, here’s a guide to uncovering the genealogy of your home.
Date of construction of the buildingDate of construction of the building
- The initial owner of the building and more details about him.
- List of subsequent owners, if any.
- What the building was initially built for.
- The original state of the building and the changes made after that
- Changes in the immediate surroundings of the building
- Name of the architect and details regarding the architecture of the building
Find the Right New York City ReferencesFind the Right New York City References
Understand that you’ll have to buckle down and sort through some data and documents, but where should you begin? It’s best to start with a broad historical overview of your area. If you live in a neighborhood designated as a historic district, you may find a report on its designation through the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The New York Public Library has collected many resources related to the history of specific neighborhoods in its Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History, and Genealogy. The library’s website recommends starting with secondary sources such as reference books. You can find historical reference books for each borough and guidebooks to get you started. Top picks include the Encyclopedia of New York and The Iconography of Manhattan Island.
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Explore Primary SourcesExplore Primary Sources
You need primary sources to help you narrow your search for specific information about your home. Gain a sense of when your building was constructed by chasing down its building permit. Public records at the Office of Metropolitan History and Department of Buildings may have this document for your construction. The city’s Finance Department has deeds that show property’s conveyance and may help you trace details about your building’s past. The Automated City Register Information System lets you comb property records and images. It covers all boroughs and goes back to 1966.
Use historical maps and deeds for your building’s lot and surrounding parcels to examine assessment records. Though very early assessments often failed to include street addresses, you can use lot measurements with maps to verify locations and ensure the proper evaluation of your building. Censuses and directories help you identify previous occupants of your building, possibly of your specific apartment. The public library, historical society, and Ancestry.com are the right places to look for these records.
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Learning About the BuilderLearning About the Builder
The city’s Building Information System lets you search for applications. This part of the app reveals the history of the building, including alterations made to it over the years. Use this data to examine the docket books from the Buildings Department, located in the city’s archives. These logs may drive you back to the maps, where you’ll have to translate the log’s shorthand before verifying the information matches your building’s lot on the map. There are tools online to help you sort through the abbreviations in the “actions” section.
When tracing your home’s history, don’t forget to be creative in your research. Talk to older adults who have lived in your building for decades. Even if they don’t remember specific names of families, they may recall details that can help you with your search.
Favorite Sources To Perform Research On BuildingsFavorite Sources To Perform Research On Buildings
Many places store information about homes in New York, including the buildings and more. Here is a handy list of sites that one can use:
- The New York Public Library is an excellent place to research the history of this kind. The library has a special section that contains plenty of information regarding the city’s history. Includes the buildings, streets, and more.
- Digging up old newspapers from archives can provide valuable clues to the events happening when the building was constructed. Publications can give vital bits of information and help put the pieces together.
- If there are any old scrapbooks or reference files associated with the building in question, inspecting them in detail is a good idea.
- The USA Census office has many detailed records and statistics on many places in New York.
- It may also be a good idea to consult the local county historian. This person will likely have access to a great deal of information on the New York Census.
- To get a brief idea of the architectural style and trends when the building was built. Consulting the Art and Architecture section of a library is possible. For example, the New York Public Library has such a division.
- One of the best places to find plenty of information regarding the history of a building is the Tax Assessor’s office. Since this office needs to keep records for official purposes, they have lots of information. The information available here includes the current owner, building construction area, a list of past owners, the past and present uses of the building, material used in constructing the building, record of building violations, and any photographs associated with the building.
- The maps and surveyors’ office is an excellent place to get hold of old maps and surveys. It is possible to trace back using the information received from this office and put together the overall history of the building and its surroundings.
- Besides this, several other public offices maintain old records like the building permit office, the county clerk’s office for deeds, etc. The gas and electric company office will also have as many historical documents as the city archives and records center.