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Newspapers in Genealogy and Local History Research: Public Notices


Government actions in the public record were typically published in the newspaper, like public auctions, city ordinances, and activities related to the Board of Education.

ColumbiaReal estate transactions or land use information is published in a number of different forms, like proposals for construction, notices on public works, building contracts, property sales, liens, foreclosures, and rental or housing listings.  Researching the history of a building is often a correlative research pursuit in genealogy, and searching addresses or names associated with a particular address in the newspaper can often yield headway-making leads.

A legal notice is essentially any proceeding filed in a local or federal court. Patrons continually ask about access to historical court records, which can be a very difficult research pursuit because of the amount of prior information that is required to gain any traction, like the court where the case took place, parties involved, and the type of legal proceeding. Often, for access, you must visit the court records room, like Room 103B at the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street. In addition, some court records are simply not accessible:

  • Thrown out after X number of years, like the retention schedule for Housing Court proceedings at 111 Centre Street.
  • Sealed, like divorce proceedings.
  • Lost.

A common legal notice is filings in bankruptcy court, which will provide abstracted information from the petition. Bankruptcies are filed in federal district court and only select petitions are available at the National Archives - the collection is incomplete, and the newspaper serves as an alternative.


Reference Librarians

The Irma and Paul Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History, and Genealogy
New York Public Library
476 Fifth Avenue (W. 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue)
Room 121
New York, New York 10018