Exciting News from the New York Public Library

They are digitizing their directories! Full story here. The collection spans from 1786 through 1923. 1849 through 1923 are done, and they are currently working on the earlier directories. “The goal is to make the directories text searchable in powerful new ways, in order to build datasets that will inform research in New York City history, genealogy, and beyond.”

I was hoping that included telephone directories, but it doesn’t look like it does. Someday! I once spent an afternoon researching old phone directories when I was trying to find out everyone who had ever lived in my building. That would only tell me people who were well off enough to afford a phone, and this was a very working class neighborhood once, and not everyone had telephones, but still. I got a lot of names. (These were reverse directories that went by address.)

Still, this is big news, especially if you are like me and hate microfilm, which I think is EVERYBODY who has ever had to use microfilm more than once or twice. You should read the article for the examples of fun things you can find out in these directories. They used the Harper brothers (founders of Harper’s) Herman Melville, Boss Tweed, and others as examples. If you are an historian these directories are essential.

Happy spiders from Halloween.


Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

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