Tenement Museum and Genealogy


Courtesy The Tenement Museum

Today’s post is about the Tenement Museum in Manhattan and genealogy. One of the things I most like about genealogy today 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 neighborhood 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 and genealogy showing 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.

And my next trip to Manhattan? I’m heading straight to the Tenement Museum. Again.

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.”


  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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