Local history collections can include published and unpublished resources: newspapers, yearbooks, family histories, family files, and the records of various local government, business, and societies and organizations, postcards, clippings, scrapbooks, and photographs.
In this section, we'll look at select examples of published local history sources that might include photographs of people. Published local histories can be about place (states, towns and villages, neighborhoods), founding families, local government, organizations, communities, buildings, cultural life, and more besides. Knowing what published sources might include an image of your ancestor means knowing something of that individual's life story. Where were they born? Where did they live? What did they do for a living? What organizations did they belong to?
School yearbooks provide researchers with an opportunity to see what our ancestors looked like when they were younger, the classes they took, the societies they belonged to, and who their friends and classmates were. Yearbooks, like most collections of interest to genealogists, are scattered far and wide, in databases, on the internet, in libraries, family archives, and, of course, the school in question.
The Milstein Division is home to thousands of unique and published family histories, many that include images of people. You can search for family histories using the NYPL Research Catalog. Here's some tips for finding family histories:
Many family histories are self published, semi-published, or in manuscript form, and have been donated to NYPL. Ancestors and descendants of Dr. Sears Cabell & Althaea Spalding Cabell / compiled by Eleanor Lobdell McVea (1977, right), for instance, is held in only three libraries in the United States. This title includes many photographs, and has been digitized by FamilySearch.
Search for images of 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.
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.
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.
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.
Search the world's most comprehensive index of full-text books.
You might find a photograph of your ancestor in a newspaper. Historical newspapers reflect the culture and events of the day, so you’ll see images of people captured in coverage of society news, weddings, anniversaries, sports events, high school and college graduations, retirements, award ceremonies, military service, and all manner of human interest stories.
For more information about researching historical newspapers at The New York Public Library, see the Milstein Division research guide
Tips for finding images of people in digitized historical newspapers
Examples, left to right (click image for larger view):
The middle and later parts of the 19th century in the United States saw the development and rise in popularity of county maps and atlases. Paid for by subscription, county maps and atlases were cadastral (or plat) maps that described property ownership—and much more—in counties and the cities, towns, and villages therein. Later county atlases include photographs and other fascinating genealogical tidbits. The Standard atlas of Woodbury County, Iowa, published by George A. Ogle & Co. about 1902, is typical of the genre and includes
Pictured right is one S. Boyles, full name Sanford Boyle[s], a farmer, born March 1859 (according to the 1900 U.S. Census), in Kansas. The same census tells us that his wife Mary was born 1864 in Iowa, and their children are Edward, born 1891; Myrtle, born 1895; and Sylvia, born 1897. It seems likely the little girl in the picture is one of his daughters.
Map collections at NYPL include hundreds of county atlases: contact firstname.lastname@example.org for help finding them.
For more information on research with county atlases, consult Using Maps for Genealogy Research, Part 4: Topographical Maps, and County Maps and Atlases
Similar to county atlases, county histories were popular from the late 19th century to early 20th century. Many were paid for by subscription, and may be known as "mug books,' because they often contain flattering histories and biographies of the counties and people they describe. You have to dig a little deeper to research the full history. But, they do often contain photographs of notable citizens, and founding families, along with the subscribers who paid a little extra to have their picture included.
Right, Mrs. Alice M.A. Pickler, from History of Faulk County, South Dakota,
together with biographical sketches of pioneers and prominent citizens, 1909.
Finding county histories in the catalog, particularly the "mug books'', in amongst more, shall we say, reputable local histories, can be challenging. This is where bibliographies come in handy, and they can be found in the NYPL Research catalog.
See also the subject terms:
[county name] County ([state]) - Biography, e.g. Will County (Ill.) - Biography, e.g. Genealogical and biographical record of Will County, Illinois, containing biographies of well known citizens of the past and present, 1900.
Many county histories predate 1923, and have been digitized by HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and others.