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Images of Our Ancestors: Non-published sources

A guide to finding images of people online and at The New York Public Library.

The Milstein Division has over the years collected numerous unpublished sources, including

  • the manuscripts, research notes, papers and photographic collections of genealogists, some arranged as family files or locales
  • items of historical ephemera, including pamphlets, postcards, flyers, and posters
  • clippings in vertical files or scrapbooks that record the history of people and places places in New York City and elsewhere.

Some of those collections have been digitized, some are listed in the NYPL Research catalog and archival finding aids, and some are known only to the librarian. Collections described in this section include photographs and images of people. For more information, contact


Included in the collections of the Milstein Division are thousands of family files, archive collections of manuscripts of family histories, research notes, pedigree charts, documents, and photographs of families. The largest collection of family files is part of a substantial number of materials donated to The New York Public Library by the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYGB), in 2008. Comprising research files donated by members of the NYGB, the collection is strong in New York families. Among the files can be found various tin types, paper prints (including cartes de visite and cabinet cards), and candid Kodak snaps.

Right, a thumb-nail sized tin-type photograph, probably taken in the 1860s, of a member of the Parsons family, likely Charles Hulbert Parsons (1819-1907), an engineer, born Harper’s Ferry, died Toledo, Ohio.

Accessing the family files

You can search for family files using the subject term [family name] family in the NYPL Research Catalog. Family files from the Milstein Division will have a call number beginning NYGB Fam 2008 or APT-F.

For instance, the result for a subject term search of Adderley family includes several family files that feature photographs.

Adderley family notes, 1913-1922. NYGB Fam 2008--030 

In the bibliographic record, you will see the following description of the contents:


  • Maps.
  • Notes.
  • Photographs.
  • Postcards.
  • Research notes.
  • Wills.

Below is a pdf that lists all NYGB Family files in the NYPL Milstein Division that include at least one photograph. NOTE: these photographs are not digitized, but can be viewed in the Milstein Division Reading Room 121.

Right: NYGB Fam 2008-30 Joseph C. Adderley, Chicago, 1918

NYPL Political campaign ephemera includes images of candidatesPrinted ephemera, are, broadly speaking, materials that were intended to be used then thrown away, or that had a finite life. For instance, old concert tickets, calendars, matchbooks, flyers and posters advertising events, menus, greetings cards, and so on. 

New York Public Library has been collecting Political Campaign Ephemera since the late 1890s. The collection, arranged by the year of the election, records U.S. Presidential elections, the elections of New York’s Governors and Senators, and the elections of New York City government officials, from Mayor to Community Board members. 

There are thousands of items of printed ephemera in this collection, including

Broadsides and posters, bumper stickers, flyers, newsletters, press packs, mailouts, membership cards, greetings cards, buttons, tote bags, sample ballots, voting instructions, TV election guides, publicity photographs, door hangers, and all sorts of novelty items.

Did your ancestor every run for office? Or were they involved in a political campaign, especially in New York? This collection may include their photograph.

Email for further details.

Schuylerville NY, Historical Week, 1912.Included in the Milstein Division's collections are numerous volumes of pamphlets, bound together and, for the most part, searchable in the NYPL Research catalog by location. You'll know a pamphlet volume when you see one, because it has p.v. in the call number. 

For instance, right is a page from the pamphlet Schuylerville, New York, "The historical village" , the official souvenir book, for Schuylerville historical week, in October 1912. It includes photographs of local dignitaries, groups, and, no doubt, sponsors. Here we see the Societe de St. Jean Baptiste, Officers Actuels.

TIP: when you find a pamphlet that is predates 1923, cut and past the title from the catalog, to see if it has been digitized, by HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, or the FamilySearch library.

For more advice on searching out local history sources at The New York Public Library, email

Accessing Research Collections at The New York Public Library