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Genealogy : Getting Started at The New York Public Library: About

A guide to getting started with genealogical research at The New York Public Library


A typical family group. 1916This guide is designed to be a resource for patrons getting started with genealogy research, but will also be of use to historians and biographers. It features tips and suggestions for information resources, including links to print and digital collections accessible at The New York Public Library (NYPL), and to databases and websites that you can access anywhere with the Internet. Access to some databases requires that you have a NYPL library card - you can apply for one online or at any branch of The New York Public Library. 

Look for books, microfilm, periodicals, archive collections, and more at NYPL Research Catalog

Search archive and manuscript collections, including Family Files, at and the NYPL Classic Catalog.

Explore maps, photographs, city directories, and other digital resources free online at NYPL Digital Collections

Search for genealogy databases and other online resources at NYPL Articles & Databases: Genealogy

Please send your questions about genealogy research to

Sign up for an online genealogy class at NYPL at

What is genealogy?

The Oxford English Dictionary describes genealogy as:

  •  An account of one's descent from an ancestor or ancestors, by enumeration of the intermediate persons; a pedigree.

For the purposes of this guide we will take genealogy to mean:

  • the study of family to trace and record lineage in pedigree charts, family trees, and other organizational charts used by genealogists
  • research into the history of the lives of the individuals and families identified in pedigree charts and family trees, using records and other historical sources.

Records and other resources used in genealogy research

Genealogy research is detective work, and can utilize many different sources of information.

For instance:

Records created by:

  • Federal and local government, e.g. censuses, vital records, property deeds, and wills.
  • Religious organizations, e.g. records of baptisms, burials, or congregation lists.
  • Businesses
  • Clubs and fraternal organizations
  • Schools
  • Hospitals

Published sources 

  • Books, e.g. indexes, transcriptions, abstracts, family histories
  • Newspapers
  • Maps
  • Directories
  • Genealogy journals

Family or personal archives e.g.

  • Family bibles
  • Family photographs
  • Diaries
  • Correspondence, postcards,
  • Steamship tickets
  • Certificates of Naturalization

Archive collections

Manuscripts, papers, correspondence and other documents of

  • Organizations, e.g. churches, political parties, mutual aid societies
  • Prominent families and individuals

To these types of materials you could add images (photographs, paintings, illustrations), ephemera (e.g. postcards, pamphlets, tickets, buttons) and objects (e.g., frakturs, quilts, gravestones, memorials).


Further reading

Who are genealogists?

Amateur genealogists

  • aka the family historian
  • variety of reasons for research
  • usually personal
  • usually open ended research
  • variety of skill levels

Professional genealogists

Professional genealogical organizations

Who serves genealogists?

Materials used by genealogists might be digitized in free or subscription databases, on microfilm, in print, or in special collections. To access these materials you may need to visit libraries, archives, or historical and genealogical societies. The good news is there are usually librarians, archivists, curators, and other information professionals at these locations that can help you find the information you need.


New York 



Historical and genealogical societies

Research centers

Further reading

Reference librarians