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Genealogy : Getting Started at The New York Public Library: Family Histories

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

Finding family histories in the NYPL catalog

ThFannie Blaine Elliott; Elliott Family History 1816-2003 / Earl S. Elliott, Jr.e Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy has in its collections thousands of family histories, including published, and self-published titles, and manuscripts. Some family histories are scholarly affairs, abiding by the rules of the Genealogical Proof Standard, with documentary evidence, and proper citations, whilst others are a labor of love, a typed and bound manuscript, complete with stories, illustrations and photostats of family trees and pedigree charts, and even family photographs. One thing they have in common: they are all arranged by name.

To find family histories in NYPL collections you need to search the subject term for a particular family name, usually [family name] family.

So... the subject term for Elliott family histories is Elliott family. 

If we search the subject term Elliott family in the NYPL Classic catalog we get 44 results, not just books, but also archive collections and microfilm too.

You can go to most online library catalogs and search your family name and the word family as a subject term to find family histories. For instance, a search of Sutton family in WorldCat produces 1380 results (some of those titles may be duplicates).

If you do find a family history that pertains to your own family, be sure to check the author's research. Does it provide evidence of assertions made? Are there citations? Is there bias? Take the time to check the records cited in a family history yourself, so that you can make your own interpretation of the facts, and create your own narrative.

You may even be inspired to write your own family history!

Family histories in print and online

New York Public Library Classic Catalog

Search for your ancestors in thousands of family histories collected by the Milstein Division. Some of the titles have been digitized: the bibliographic record in the catalog will include a link a digital copy, if one is available.

Family Search Digital Library

The Family History Library is actively digitizing its family histories, local histories, and other collections to make them searchable and available online to researchers worldwide.

Includes digitized family histories from the Family History Library, Allen County Public Library, Arizona State Library, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Onondaga County Public Library, and The Midwest Genealogy Center, amongst others.

Heritage Quest

This genealogical database allows researchers to search U.S. Federal Census records, digitized family and local history books, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files and the Freedman's Bank Records (1865-1874), maps, and a wealth of other historical collections and research guides.


HathiTrust is a partnership of academic and research institutions, offering a collection of millions of books digitized from libraries around the world, including family histories.

Internet Archive

A free digital library that includes 20 million books, and 3 million images, including family histories. Tip: look for the titles of books in library catalogs, then search for that title in the internet archive. Or search [family name] family as a topic.

Google Books

Search the world's most comprehensive index of full-text books.

Further reading