Family history has secrets. But these secrets don’t stay hidden for long, if you know where to look.

One of the top places to solve family secrets is the New York Public Library’s Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy. What can you find there?

As one of the nation’s largest publicly accessible and non-membership family history collections, the Milstein Division is a national resource. Unlike many other genealogical and local history collections, the Milstein Division acquires materials beyond the local region.  Our holdings in town, city, county, and state histories are national in scope, while our historical genealogical materials are international in scope, including foreign language materials in Roman alphabets. The collections are comprised of 1/2 million books, 400,000 photographic images, as well as the published materials and researcher and vertical files from the collections of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.
And these days of library outreach, it’s not enough to have a world-class collection. You also have to reach out directly to genealogists.

The Library’s Milstein Division staff are very excited to present a movie trailer-style promotional video, which debuted this week on YouTube. We’ve loved the videos that other NYPL divisions and neighborhood libraries have made — especially Jefferson Market Library’s Haunted Library video — and were inspired to make our own. After writing the script, we contacted some great people in the film and television industry, and they were willing to help us out.

Our hero, played by actor Ronan Babbitt, uses several Library resources to help him discover his family secrets. We first see him receive Library materials from our page, Sarah, which means he filled in a call slip after consulting the Library’s catalog. Our hero then flips through the card catalog drawers. Since we no longer use the old card catalog drawers for our collections, what you will find here are three sets of indexes: one for coats of arms, one for images of passenger ships, and one of New York City illustrations.

Our hero also uses many of the Library’s visual collections and ephemera, including postcards, New York City clippings files, and the Scrapbook of Original U.S. Army Shoulder Patches. He makes a note to look for a Coroner’s Inquisition. (Coroner’s inquisitions were conducted in cases when a person met a sudden, violent, unnatural or suspicious death.) Some of the interesting books that our hero consults include Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American RevolutionThe Confederate Soldier in the Civil War and books on heraldry.

We see that he has picked up the latest issue of NOW, the Library’s guide to NYPL programs, classes, and events, and he circles the class description for Clues From Family Photos so that he will remember to attend.

Our hero consults many of the Library’s online resources, including the Genealogy Research Tips: Breaking Through Brick Walls and Getting Past Dead Ends post from the Milstein blog channel. He uses Fold3 to view images of the Vietnam War and Matthew Brady’s Civil War photos, Ancestry Library Edition to check out the U.S. Naturalization Index, and HeritageQuest to search people in PERSI. His search in PERSI must have been a success since we see him reference several genealogy and local history periodicals, including Pennsylvania LegaciesKentucky AncestorsOregon Historical Quarterly, and The Genealogists’ Magazine.
Genealogy and history research is detective work. Researchers are often trying to solve a mystery, and everyone’s mystery is different.

What will you find in your family history?

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