Tony the Tour Guy's Blog

A not very regular series of posts on New York City history, historic preservation, genealogy and related themes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Researching YOUR New York History

If your family has been in NYC for any length of time, then the best way to learn some of the social history of this town is to research your own genealogy. OK, I know what you're thinking; genealogy is a lot of stuffy nonsense about "pedigrees" - a hobby for those who want to get into the Daughters of the American Revolution or some other group. Well, wrong. What we're talking about here is family history, and what your family has done is intimately tied to the history of NYC.

An example: I've long had a professional interest in the Lower East Side because so many people have descended from immigrants settling there. But it wasn't until I found, through Census records and old City Directories, that my own family had roots there going back to the 1840s when Ludwig Meyer, a tailor from Alsace, France, set up residence in the area, that my fascination with the place really grew. Ludwig and his progeny, along with several other branches of my family, were part of the huge migration of Germans to the Lower East Side in the 1840s and 50s. At that time the place was actually called "Kleindeutschland," or "Little Germany." Why would a Frenchman settle amongst Germans? Of course, he was from Alsace, a region of France close to Germany.

As I dug through records, a process made much easier nowadays due to online resources such as Ancestry, Kleindeutschland really came alive to me.Everything fell into place.

Another example: we don't read much about New York's contribution to the Civil War. Two of my ancestors, I learned, served in that war, and I was easily able to order their Army records from the feds. History comes alive when it's your own.

Some practical stuff on family history will follow.


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