Today’s Follow Friday is about The Tenement Museum in New York City. One of the things I most like about genealogy is its emphasis on social history – the lives of ordinary citizens. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum tells the stories of immigrant families. Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which has been an immigrant portal for 200 years, 97 Orchard Street was home to an estimated 7,000 people from over 20 nations from 1863 to 1935. Inside, visitors view restored apartments and learn about the struggles of past generations in the hope of providing historical perspective on the experiences of today’s newcomers.
When I first started helping people with their genealogical research 30+ years ago, it seemed that most library users were doing research on ancestors from New England and the South and intent on proving descents that would qualify them for the Mayflower Society, the DAR, and the like.
In those pre-Internet days, researchers who were working on African-American or immigrant ancestors in the 19th century were fairly rare. And since my own family was strictly Burke’s Steerage instead of Burke’s Peerage, it was pretty much impossible to use meaningful examples from my own research.
Today the Internet has brought genealogists together in ways that were never dreamed of. When I see a place like the Tenement Museum showing what life was like for less favored citizens, it makes me very happy.
If you’re interested in what life was like for your immigrant ancestors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Tenement Museum is a great resource. In addition to lesson plans, walking tours, building tours, and presentations, the Tenement Museum also has an archives. You can search the photograph collection here and their primary sources are here. They also have a blog that’s a great read. And my next trip to Manhattan? I’m heading straight to the Tenement Museum.