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Tenement Museum and Genealogy

Today’s post is about the Tenement Museum and genealogy. The Tenement Museum, in lower Manhattan, is one of the very best museums I’ve ever been to ever. And I go to a LOT of museums.

Tenement Museum and Genealogy

One of the things I most like about genealogy today is its emphasis on social history, or the lives of ordinary citizens. And that’s why I love the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which tells the stories of ethnic immigrant families. Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which has been an immigrant neighborhood for 200 years, the Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street was once home to an estimated 7,000 people from over 20 nations between 1863 to 1935.

Inside, visitors view restored apartments. There they learn about the struggles of past generations and gain a greater understanding of the lives of immigrants who built this country.

When I first started helping people with their genealogical research 35+ 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. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as some comedian said once.

In those pre-Internet days, researchers who were working on African-American or immigrant ancestors in the 19th century were fairly rare. And the resources available were even rarer.

Since my own family was strictly Burke’s Steerage instead of Burke’s Peerage, I was in the same boat (joke alert) as others with non-colonial U.S. ancestors. Today the Internet has brought genealogists together in ways that were never dreamed of and made obscure records available with a mouse click.

So when I see a place like the Tenement Museum demonstrating what life was like for America’s immigrants, it makes me very happy.

The Tenement Museum and genealogy offers great resources if you’re interested in what life was like for your immigrant ancestors in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. 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.

For more help researching European immigrant ancestors to the U.S., try Discovering Immigrant Ancestors. There are 25 pages of active links to essential and little-known resources on immigration and naturalization for European ancestors arriving at all ports in the United States.

Discovering Immigrant AncestorsIn this Sassy Jane Genealogy Guide, you’ll also learn how ancestors made the decision to leave Europe, and what it was like to journey to America and pass through immigration inspections to start new lives.

Using resources of the National ArchivesLibrary of Congress, academic archives, and genealogy records, Discovering Immigrant Ancestors covers the complete immigration experience of your ancestors, with resources that will advance your family history research.

Even if your ancestors arrived at North American ports other than New York, this Sassy Jane Genealogy Guide provides insight into the immigration experience, and resources for passenger lists, naturalization and alien records, and immigration guides that focus your research.

Discovering Immigrant Ancestors is an illustrated 77-page color PDF. An iBooks format for your iPad is also available upon request. For more information or to order, click here.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”

3 Comments

  1. Kathy Reed 18 March 2011 at 6:33 AM

    What an interesting post! When we were in Scotland last fall, they also had a tenement museum in Glasgow. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit. Cincinnati was once an area of similar tenement buildings with people living in total squalor. There are no remnants of the main area left. Much of it was removed when the expressway system went in. Thanks for this info.

  2. Sassy Jane Genealogy 18 March 2011 at 9:33 AM

    You’re welcome, Kathy. I need to get to New York!

  3. Heather Kuhn Roelker 18 March 2011 at 10:49 AM

    I also have this on my “to do” list for my next NYC visit. My husband’s ancestors, the Paganos, lived in a tenement in Manhattan in the early 1900s…just blocks from the museum. I can’t wait to go and visit!

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