Compiled from Andrew S. Dolkart’s “Hints on Researching New York City Buildings” and the Brooklyn Historical Society’s “House Research Guide.”
Old atlases were published (by Perris, Bromley, Robinson, Sanborn, and others) every few years and show what was standing at the time of publication, the materials used in construction, building names, historic addresses, and street names among other things. The key in the front of each volume will aid in understanding the symbols and colors that appear on each map. Be sure to look specifically for Brooklyn land books and to check if the atlas was updated at some point after its initial publication. This update is usually noted on a sticker placed on one of the first pages. For example if a 1900 maps has been updated through 1920, what appears on the pages of the atlas are the existing conditions in 1920, not 1900.
New York Public Library, 455 5th Avenue, New York 10016, 212.237.8225, www.nypl.org/
The New York Public Library has some land books online as well as a map division in Room 117 (Hours: Tuesday-Wednesday 1:00-7:30pm, Thursday-Saturday, 1:00-6:00pm).
Historic Map Works (http://www.historicmapworks.com) is an online interactive collection of altas pages from a variety of years and locations across the country. You can search by address and compare one year to another by turning on overlays.
David Rumsey (www.davidrumsey.com/index.html)
Oasis (http://www.oasisnyc.net/map.aspx) and NYC Map (http://gis.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap/?)
These sites have a wealth of current data where you can look up building addresses to find information on block and lots, political boundaries, zoning and land use, and links to databases of various city agencies. There is some historic data on this site, such as building date; however, this data is not always completely accurate.
210 Joralemon Street, 8th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201, 718.802.3675, www.nyc.gov/buildings
The New York City Department of Buildings has records that contain valuable information and have been kept since 1866. These records include a variety of forms, such as NB forms (New Building forms, with information on building specs, architect, owner, and dates of construction), Alt forms (Alteration forms), Dem forms (Demolition forms), and CO forms (Certificates of Occupancy, outlining how a building was to be occupied at a certain point in time).
The website above (www.nyc.gov/buildings) contains a web query column on the right where an address may be entered into the Building Information System (BIS). This will pull up the block and lot number as well as the basic information on the building. By clicking on “Actions” towards the bottom of the page, you may view any forms that exist on that property, some of which may click in order to view online.
The Department of Buildings for Brooklyn is in the Brooklyn Municipal Buildings on the 8th floor, and may be view upon request by contacting Carlos Piniero (718.802.3635). The DOB has folders organized by block and lot containing the above mentioned forms as well as plans.
These records will tell you who lived in the building on the day that the census taker visits, as well as other information on the people, including status within the househould, relation to the head of the household, sex, race, age, national origin, occupation, etc. The U.S. Census is taken every ten years, and the records are closed to the public for about 70 years. Now, census records through 1930 are available. In order to search prior to 1880, you need to have a name since the records do not give an address. However, from 1880 on, you may search the records by the address of the property.
Ancestry Library Addition, www.ancestry.com
Federal census records are available online at all branches of the New York Public Library. If you are researching an address, you need to find the enumeration district by using Steve Morse’s website (see below). Be forewarned, a problem when using these census records is reading the handwriting. Therefore, there may be some variation in the names while searching.
Steve Morse, http://stevemorse.org
If you only have an address you will need to use this site. Under “US Census and Soundex” click on “1900-1940 Census ED Finder: Obtaining EDs for the 1900 to 1940 Census in One Step (Large Cities).” At the top of the page, put in the census year you want. On the left side, put the state and city, then the names of streets that form the block. Use this ED number into Ancestry in order to browse for the street and address you need. Steve Morse also has the New York State census indexed by street.
New York Public Library, see above for location
Both Federal and State census records may also be viewed on microfilm in Room 119 at the main branch of the New York Public Library. For instructions, go to the Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy Room in Room 121 and ask a librarian for assistance (Hours: Monday, Thursday-Saturday 10:00am-6:00pm; Tuesday-Wednesday 10:00am-7:30pm).
The New York Public Library has put hundreds of thousands of images online, which can be accessed from the above link. You may search by typing in a street name, building name, business name, etc. to find historic photographs.
This magazine began weekly publication in the late 1860s. Each week from 1878-1889 there is a list of proposed buildings in Brooklyn that includes information of the architect, owner, date, etc.
128 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201, 718.222.4111, www.brooklynhistory.org/
The Brooklyn Historical Society includes a multitude of resources including land conveyance records from 1699 to 1896, city directories from 1820 to 1913 and 1933, the Brooklyn and Long Island scrapbook collection of newspaper clippings from 1860 to 1960, and historical books on the architecture of Brooklyn.
A collection documenting Brooklyn land ownership from 1699 to 1896 is available at the Brooklyn Historical Society, and is organized by block showing seller and buyer information.
10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11238, 718.230.2762, www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/brooklyncollection
The Brooklyn Collection is the local history division of the Brooklyn Public Library and includes research materials and archival documents such as historic maps, photographs, prints, ephemera, and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
790 Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11221, 718.455.3898
This branch of the BPL is located in the Bushwick Avenue Study Area and has already been designated a New York City Landmark. It is a good resources for information on the area and on neighborhood programs.
Central Park West and West 76th Street, 212.873.3400, www.nyhistory.org, (Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10:00am-5:00pm)
The catalogue of the library is available on the New-York Historical Society Website. You do not need an appointment to use the library and it is free, but photocopying is limited. This library includes NYC Directories, additional atlases, special collections and clippings files, and a large collection of architectural drawings and photographs.
130 Livingstone Street, Room C42, Brooklyn, NY 11201, 718.694.1068, http://mta.info/mta/museum/index.html#archives
This archive has an extensive collection of historic photographs of New York subway lines and other transit systems documenting their construction and alteration. It is necessary to call and make an appointment approximately two weeks in advance.
The LOC website is an excellent source for images, such as historic photographs and maps. By clicking on “American Memory,” you can also get access to all of the records of HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey) and HAER (Historic American Engineering Survey). Most of the drawings and pictures of New York City buildings date from the 1930s.
The Arsenal, 830 Fifth Avenue, Parks Library, Room 240, 212.360.8240, www.nyc.gov (Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm).
The Parks Department keeps a diverse collection of primary and secondary source materials on the history of the city’s parks. Once you have targeted your research, you need to call the Library about source materials and setting up a research appointment.
1 Centre Street, New York, NY 10007, 212.669.7700, www.nyc.gov/html/landmarks (Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00am-5:00pm)
The LPC has written a designation report on every individual landmark and historic district in the city. Almost all of these reports are available online. For reports from 2001 on, go to the website above and click on “Forms and Publications” and then “Designation Reports.” The earlier reports are available at http://www.neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/designation_reports/.
Buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places either as individual landmarks or within a district.
Eugene Armbruster’s The Eastern District of Brooklyn (1912).
Kenneth Jackson’s The Encyclopedia of New York City, (1995).
Ruth Kramer’s Place Names in Bushwick (Master’s Thesis, Department of English, Brooklyn College, CUNY, January 1971).
Henry Stiles’s A History of the City of Brooklyn, Volumes 1 and 2 (1867).
The New York Times, www.nytimes.com, has covered architecture and development since the 19th century, particularly in its Sunday real estate section.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/eagle, is a historical newspaper published 1841-1902, and may be searched online.
The Bushwiki, www.bushwick-studio.wikispaces.com, includes information compiled by Columbia University Historic Preservation students in the spring of 2011 on the Bushwick Avenue Study Area.
Brooklyn Genealogical Information, www.bklyn-genealogy-info.com, includes city directories, church histories, etc.
The New York Public Library, www.nypl.org, has more information on how to use the library’s resources. Start by simply clicking on “Using the Library.”
Brooklyn Historical Society: House Research Guide, http://www.brooklynhistory.org/library/house.html, is another guide that may be used as a resource for researching historic buildings.