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How to Research a Family Business: Images and Maps

Describes resources for researching the history of a business. Guide by Susan Kriete.

NYPL Digital Collections search page

NYPL Digital Collections search portal (accessed August 28, 2018)

Images

Most of the images in NYPL's collections have been digitized and are accessible online though our Digital Collections page. Keep in mind that many businesses are included in more general street scenes, and may not be specifically identified in the description of the image.

Blossom Restaurant

NYPL Digital Collections Image ID 482799

To explore business images in this collection, try the following:

  • Search by name of business
    • this is always worth trying, but be aware that the business name is rarely included in the description unless it is an iconic business such as Macy's
  • Search by location:
    • most businesses appear in general street scenes showing multiple buildings on a block. To find these, search with the names of the street(s) rather than the specific address, which is generally not included in the description 
    • For other locations: search with the town or state and keywords such as business, store, shop, company, etc. (e.g. Albany store)
  • Search by type of business

 

Maps

Maps can be a useful tool for visualizing a business and placing it in the context of its neighborhood.

Fire Insurance maps, often referred to as "Sanborn maps" (after their primary publisher), are a particularly valuable resource. These maps were originally created to help insurers assess the fire risk posed by individual buildings. To serve this purpose, the maps provided very detailed information, depicting the size, shape, construction materials, house and block numbers, property boundaries and how individual buildings were used.  For smaller cities, insurance maps may also identify the businesses at specific locations.

NYPL's  Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division holds a large collection of insurance maps, for both New York City and other locations. 

  • Pre-1923 insurance maps for New York City in NYPL's collection have been digitized and are freely available online
  • Insurance maps for New York City and New York State are also available through the database Sanborn Maps, New York State (Geocoded) (available on-site and at home with a valid library card).
  • For online insurance maps of other locations, see the Map Division's guide to Fire Insurance Maps on the Web.

For smaller cities and towns, business directory maps may also be available. These may be included in county atlases, and list the names of local businesses (those included most likely paid for this advertising).

 

NYPL Digital Collections Image ID 5376724

Many of the business directory maps in NYPL's collections have been digitized and are freely available through our Digital Collections portal (try a keyword search for [name of the town or county] and "business map").