Brooklyn Historical Society Library, Brooklyn, New York
By Michelle D Novak, MI
This series highlights local repositories and underutilized resources that may be of interest to Bergen County genealogists. If you have a repository or library you would like to see included in this series, please send your suggestions to the Editor of The Archivist.
NY-NJ-CT town histories, some privately published, organized alphabetically by town name (MN)
The Long Island Historical Society was founded in the 1863 to discover, procure, and preserve materials and records related to the natural, civil, literary, and ecclesiastical history of Long Island. In the mid-twentieth century, the Society redefined their mission to one focused exclusively on the complex and ever-changing history of Brooklyn and renamed itself the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS).
Located in a stunning, ornate Queen Anne style building in bucolic Brooklyn Heights, NYC, the BHS is a museum and library with a renewed mission. In the past decade, the building underwent an extensive restoration: preserving the beautiful interiors while adding modern amenities and a new exhibition gallery space. The Society has also reconnected with the Brooklyn community via social events, lectures, and selling Brooklyn-produced items in their gift shop. The result is a modern facility inside a breathtaking building that has retained their world-class collection of records and artifacts — and makes them easily accessible to researchers.
The BHS Othmer Library (BHS)
From the BHS website: “The Othmer Library at BHS houses world-renowned special collections and archives and is one of the most comprehensive collection of materials related to Brooklyn’s history and culture. Its holdings include more than 33,000 books, 1,600 archival collections, 1,200 oral history interviews, 50,000 photographs, 2,000 maps, 8,000 artifacts, and 300 paintings which document the commercial, residential, community, and civic development of the borough… including manuscripts, personal and family papers, business records, newspapers and other periodicals, books and pamphlets, maps and atlases, artifacts, paintings, photographs, films, oral histories, and genealogies.”
What are the Must-see Resources for Genealogists?
- Family Histories — The BHS Othmer Library holds thousands of published volumes on local families. Some of the titles are commercially published, others privately published, and some are even bound from loose papers and may be the only surviving copy of the work. The collection of family genealogies spans nearly half of the Library’s lower-level stacks and most titles are listed in the catalog on the BHS’ website. (During my visit to BHS, I undertook some research for my brother-in-law’s Brownejohn-Lott tree. Within fifteen minutes, I had found about eight titles on this family and easily found the information he needed for an elusive ancestor in a privately-published book.)
- Ecclesiastical Histories — Before governments started keeping consolidated records in the late 1800s, births, marriages, and deaths in the community were recorded by houses of worship. The BHS holds an excellent collection of early church histories and records for Long Island and Brooklyn, including some original manuscript materials, and the collection takes up about one-fifth of the first floor stacks.
Brooklyn Land Conveyances cards (BHS and MN)
- Brooklyn Land Conveyance Collection — This collection of transcripts documents Brooklyn land transfers from the late-seventeenth century through to 1896. These abstracts show seller (grantor) and buyer (grantee) information and in many cases these abstracts are the only records for these early land transactions that have survived. The collection is not publicly accessible and staff will retrieve the folder for the property you require. (Please note that these are abstracts, not the actual deeds.) www.brooklynhistory.org/library/wp/ brooklyn-land-conveyances/
- Long Island Star / Brooklyn Evening Star (1809-1863) — One of the earliest newspapers in Brooklyn, the BHS Library has the entire run on microfilm as well as a card index for abstracted marriage and death notices, 1809-1845.
Can I research online?
The BHS has a very user-friendly description of their genealogical holdings on their website as well as a BHS-specific online catalog, called ‘Emma,’ and an online image collection and gallery.
What are the hours, fees, and other information?
- The BHS Othmer Library is located at:
Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201
at the corner of Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights
- For comprehensive driving directions or transportation options, see www.brooklynhistory.org/visitor/visitors.html
- Street parking is practically non-existent. Plan ahead by researching nearby parking garages (which are always cheaper than a NYC parking ticket or tow) or use mass transportation.
- The BHS is a few blocks walk from the N/R, 2/3, 4/5 subways.
- The library is open to the public on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 1 to 5 pm. Note that the library is closed most Saturdays in August, see website for hours.
- An elevator serves all floors and the staff will assist patrons who cannot access the library stacks.
- The Library is the main repository for the collection and is climate-controlled to provide a optimum environment for the materials.
- Suggested contribution: $10 adults; $6 teachers and seniors; free to members, students with valid school IDs, and children under 12.
- All large bags and ink pens must be checked upon entering the Library. Cubbies and a coat rack are available for your use.
Brooklyn Heights is a wonderful, walkable historic community. Explore, shop, take in the skyline from the Promenade, or find a cafe for lunch — your visit can be a great day out for you and your family.
How can someone contact a research specialist?
During normal operating hours, BHS staff are always available to help you develop a research strategy or identify useful sources. Contact the BHS Library staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 347-381-3708.