Obtaining Photos of your Ancestral Home

New York City genealogists are luckier than most. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) photographed nearly every single building in the five boroughs. This was done for tax assessment purposes at the time, but fortunately, the city Archives Dept. recognized the historical value of these photos and has carefully maintained, and restored where necessary, these images.

If you have the address of the home where your ancestors lived — easily obtained from census records (1930 or even earlier) — you can order a print of the image of the home on line. (The address, of course, appears on the left hand side of the census page, written vertically, and the house number will appear on the horizontal line where a family enumeration starts.)

To identify the exact photo you want from the collection, you can view the microfilm of the images available at the St. George, Staten Island, Library, and obtain the block and lot number, to save a few dollars.  Or you can simply order the image on line by inputting the address, and let the city identify the block and lot for an additional $5 fee.  For those of doing Staten Island genealogy long distance, that’s the best option.

Note that the building must have existed at the time the photos were taken in order to be included in the collection–but for the older buildings, it is possible you can get an image of the residence your ancestors lived in,  in 1880. 

Order photos of Staten Island homes online here.

Vintage Views of the Island

The New York Public Library has a wonderful online collection of vintage postcards showing images from Staten Island.  It includes over 750 postcards depicting the buildings, scenery, and daily life of Staten Island from the late 19th-century until well into the 20th-century.

The collection was a gift to the Library from Catherine Robinson, who spent her childhood in Staten Island, and who later assembled and organized the postcards as a hobby. What’s so wonderful about this collection is that Robinson categorized the images and added descriptions to each postcard, giving an insider’s take on interesting features or content that’s not evident from the title.

You can order copies of these images as enlarged digital prints from framing, or even have them into photo gifts such as Christmas ornaments.  Now there’s a great gift idea for your grandmother, or your favorite Staten Island genealogist.