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Othmer Library in 1976, v1974.031.67. Long Island Historical Society photographs, v1974.031, Brooklyn Historical Society.

Historically the Othmer Library collected materials donated by its members; as such, the book collection largely consisted of genealogies, biographies, church sermons, histories of New England, and war histories. Today, the collections focus on the history of Brooklyn, its diverse neighborhoods, and its many ethnic groups; to a lesser extent, it also covers Long Island, New York City, and its environs. The collections also include primary source materials such as directories, municipal reports, dissertations, and maps.

In addition to the extensive collection of books and other print material found on its shelves, the Othmer Library holds several collections of other resources useful in researching Brooklyn, Long Island, and New York. These are available in the library with no appointment necessary. Among these collections are:

Brooklyn Land Conveyances

The Brooklyn Land Conveyance collection documents Brooklyn land transfers from the late 17th Century through to 1896.  Organized by block, these abstracts show seller (grantor) and buyer (grantee) information. Please note that these are just abstracts, not the actual deeds. In many cases these abstracts are the only records for these early land transactions that have survived. The New York City Department of Finance has abstracts and deeds for property transfers post-1900.

To find out the block number for a specific address, just enter the address into the New York City Department of Buildings’ online database.

An appointment is not necessary to view materials from this collection, you may use them anytime the library is open to the public.

City Council minutes

Brooklyn Historical Society holds a series of bound volumes of the Proceedings of the Board of Aldermen of the City of Brooklyn, dating from 1854 to 1897. The series also contains related documents such as City Charters and Ordinances (1840, 1850, 1854, 1857, 1865, 1873, 1888-1889, 1895), Corporation and Common Council manuals (1855-1869), Kings County Supervisors minutes (1872, 1877, 1884-1886, 1889, 1893-1895), Building and Health laws (1870, 1881, 1887, 1895), and Park laws (1887).

City Directories

The Brooklyn Historical Society’s collection of city directories includes copies of both New York City and Brooklyn directories, available to researchers on microfilm and/or microfiche, with a very small portion of the collection available in print.  The New York City directories include information pertaining to the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx, spanning the years 1786-1934, and are largely available only on microfilm (76 reels).  The collection does include physical copies of New York City directories for the years 1915-1917 and 1925.

Brooklyn city directories are available on 28 microfilm reels for the period 1847-1913, or on microfiche for the period 1822-1861.  The collection also includes one physical copy of a Brooklyn city directory covering the years 1933-1934, as well as four Brooklyn classified telephone directories spanning the years 1932-1938.  Finally, the collection also includes separate directories for the city of Williamsburgh prior to its annexation as a part of the City of Brooklyn, which are available on microfiche and cover the years 1847-1854.

The collection of directories serves as a valuable resource of information pertaining to residential, municipal, and commercial life in both New York City and Brooklyn during from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries.  Directories are quite extensive and regularly include features such as registers of public departments and institutions, street and avenue directories, purchaser’s guides, general directories (including occupations and businesses of local residents), and advertising indexes, while also occasionally featuring illustrated city plans, maps of transit lines, and information pertaining to public parks, ward boundaries, freight depots, locations of piers, cabs and taxicabs, and borough histories.

Brooklyn Public Library has digitized 31 years of Brooklyn city and business directories (1856 – 1908). You can find them on BPL’s website here.

Fire Insurance Atlases

The Brooklyn Historical Society possesses a collection of historical atlases of  Brooklyn spanning the years 1846-1932. The atlases included in the collection were generated for various purposes, i.e., for insurance purposes, for use by real estate brokers and/or lawyers, for the mapping of farm lines, or for the use of government officials.  The intended purpose of each atlas reflects which features of the surveyed area are emphasized.

As the atlases advance chronologically,  so too do they advance in technical sophistication.  Depending on the level of detail, atlases can include information such as the material content of every building, house and block numbers, content and condition of pavement, street status and usability, locations of sewers and water mains, locations of subway and rail lines, plate boundaries, section and ward division lines, and original farm lines, among further information.

This collection is an excellent historical resource for researchers looking to map the changes that have occurred to the neighborhoods of Brooklyn over time. Collectively, the atlases present a nearly exhaustive survey of the borough of Brooklyn as it existed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Most atlases are physically represented in the collection, but some are only available on microfiche. The collection is accompanied by a navigational index.  For each atlas, the index lists the atlas number (and location within the collection); microfilm reel; date of publication; author/surveyor; title, including the townships and/or wards surveyed; and neighborhoods included.

View the atlas index here.

Motion Picture Films

The Motion Picture Film Collection consists of films and videos donated from patrons and famous personages of Brooklyn, collected from productions involving Brooklyn, and materials featuring activities of organizations and places around Brooklyn that reflect life, people, and organizations centered around Brooklyn.  The collection is constantly growing and currently consists of 16mm and 35mm films, videotapes, and DVDs.  Most notable is the Granbery and Barr home movies documenting a multi-branch family in Brooklyn Heights in the early 20th century and the Brooklyn Bureau of Community Services films of the organization’s charitable activities both in Brooklyn and outside the city.

Several widely distributed films in the collection include This is Brooklyn and Prospect Park and television programs like ABC’s Discovery Kenya. The materials also feature the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson, and Ebbets Field prominently.

The Motion Picture Film collection is currently being processed with more detailed information forthcoming. Heel to Toe Artists Hoof it to Coney Island is currently available online while the remainder of the films will be made available as they are processed and digitized.  Please contact the Library for more information.

Film Inventory

  • 100 Years in Library Park, no date
  • Angst, Hoffnung u.d. Tod in Brighton, no date
  • Another side of Brooklyn’s Renaissance: The community Housing Movement, 01/1986
  • Black Churches in Brooklyn, 04/03/1984
  • The Brave Man, no date
  • Brooklyn Answer, no date
  • Brooklyn, 1949 or 1969
  • Brooklyn Bureau of Community Services (ARC.129)
    • Camp Wildwood, no date
    • Shelter Island and Camp Shelter Project, 05/16/1966
    • Some People From Brooklyn, 1965
  • Brooklyn Dodgers Movies:
    • 100 Years: A Visual History of the Dodgers, 1990
      Ebbets Field, no date
    • Here’s to You, Mister Robinson, no date
    • Jackie Robinson, 1991
  • Bulletin Board Promo, 02/23/1993
  • “The City of Greater New York” Trailer, no date
  • Commercial Films:
    • Cinderella of Berkeley Place, no date
    • Come to the Fair, 1963
    • Once Upon a Park, 1966
  • Electronic History Inc. Films:
    • House of Spies, 1966
    • Theodore Roosevelt: 1858-1919, 1966
    • The World of Peter Stuyvesant, 1966
  • Films about Brooklyn and Its Neighborhoods:
    • Brighton Beach, no date
    • Brighton Beach, Sylvia Fine, no date
    • Brooklyn, 1949 or 1969
    • Brooklyn Bridge, no date
    • Brooklyn Film, 1965
    • Brownstones of Brooklyn, 1944 or 1964
    • Coney Island: A Documentary Film, 1991
    • Crown Heights is Home, 1994
    • Prospect Park, no date
    • Things About Brooklyn, 1965
    • This is Brooklyn: An Amazing Place, 07/10/1976
  • Films about or by Brooklyn Historical Society and Museum:
    • Across to Each Other, an interactive video-disc on racism, demonstrated here in a non-interactive form (6 minutes), no date, AIDS Brooklyn Exhibit 1993-94
    • BHS #1, #2, 02/28/2001
    • BHS #3, 03/27/2001
    • BHS #4, #5, 04/24/2001
    • BHS #6, #7, 07/25/2001
    • BHS #9, #10, 12/07/2001
    • BHS – Copy, no date
    • BHS Panel Discussion at Bedford Stuyvesant, 11/05/1998
    • Blueprint/New York City/Brooklyn Museum, no date
    • Brooklyn Historical Society: A Fable of Two Tables, no date
    • Fun House of Memories, 10/16/1990
    • Voices of Brooklyn, April 1999
    • “Voices of Brooklyn” Premier Performance – Celebrating Brooklyn History – Brooklyn Historical Society, 04/23/1998
  • Granbery and Barr home movies, 1920 – 1945 (2008.039)
  • Heel to Toe Artists Hoof it to Coney Island, 1932 (1992.3)
  • Hidden Kingdoms: The World of Microbes, 1989
  • Home Place Minnesota, no date
  • How Sugar is Made, no date
  • 1) Images of Reality: Touring Anti-Violence Show Performed by and for Teens (12 minutes); 2) Tetsuo’s Room, an object-theater presentation (8 1/2 minutes); 3) Getting, no date
  • It Happened On Long Island, 1976
  • Island of Hope – Island of Tears, no date
  • Jon Lipsky Playwright Tape of Excerpts, no date
  • John W. Cooper: Ventriloquist, 07/27/1991
  • Lori Novak/Clilly Castiglio Collected Visions, no date
  • Maelstrom Music, no date
  • Made in Brooklyn: A Documentary about the Importance of Manufacturing, 10/26/1993
  • New York Cross Harbor Railroad, 1993
  • News and Television Programs:
    • Bob Vila’s Home Again, Shows 1401, 1402, 1403, 1405, 07/28/2003
    • Channel 7 TV spot on Brooklyn’s History Museum, 10/1989
      Discovery Kenya, no date
  • Old Age Film, 1964
  • The Plymouth Rope Walk, 07/17/2000
  • Porque Brooklyn?, no date
  • Puerto Rican Pioneers in Brooklyn, 1989
  • Roadrunner Race, NYC to CI, 1929-30
  • Samsung Children’s Museum, no date
  • Silent Pioneers:
    • Silent Pioneers: Gay & Lesbian Elders, no date
    • Silent Pioneers: Tales of an Exhausted Woman, Last Days of Maplewood, Lucy Winter/Selects, Weeksville: Save the Memories of Self, Bob Knight/Complete, no date
    • Sugar Refining, no date
    • Teen Tokyo, no date
  • Unknown Films:
    • Unlabeled Video, no date
    • Unlabeled Films, 1943 – 1963
    • Various Sound Reels, no date
    • Working Waterfront, no date

Newspapers

The Brooklyn Historical Society possesses a vast collection of historic newspapers published in the metropolitan New York area from 1783 to 2015, with the bulk the publications dating from 1820 to 2005.  The collection consists of both printed newspapers and newspapers on microfilm. The link below provides a full listing of the newspapers included in the collection. As researchers will note, some newspapers are available in their full run, while others are only available for certain date ranges.

View a full listing of available newspapers here.

This collection is an excellent resource for researching historic events and individuals, of both local and national prominence, as they were depicted in the city’s regular news sources.  The collection also offers valuable insight into the print culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Finally, the collection may also be of use to genealogy researchers.

The Brooklyn Historical Society possesses the entire run of The Long Island Star, which lasted from 1809 to 1863. The Long Island Star is digitized and available online.

The library also has a card index file to marriage and death notices posted in the newspaper between the years 1809 and 1845.  The collection is on microfilm only and is accompanied by a navigational card index documenting the occurrence of marriage and death records posted in the newspaper between the years 1809 and 1845.

Information included in marriage records relates to the place and date of the ceremony, immediate family members and places of origin of the newlyweds, and, occasionally, the reverend who performed the service.

Information included in death records relates to the deceased’s relation to the Long Island/Brooklyn area, place and date of death, immediate familial and spousal relations, and occupation and/or titles of distinction.  Occasional mentions are also made regarding place of birth, site of funerary ceremony, place of burial, and the family line of the deceased.

This collection is an excellent resource for genealogy researchers.  No appointment is necessary to view this collection.

Periodicals

Othmer Library holds runs of many hard-to-find magazines, journals and other periodicals relevant to Brooklyn and Long Island research. Among these are The Brooklynite (1926-30), Brooklyn Life (1890-1931), Flatbush magazine (1923-28, 1941-60), and journals of Long Island history (1939-42, 1961-69, 1973-82) published by the Brooklyn Historical Society (then known as the Long Island Historical Society).

The Brooklynite

The Brooklynite publication caters to Brooklyn society, photos of various socialites, humorous anecdotal stories, poetry, and artwork. The library holds the following issues:

  • April 1926, vol 1., no. 1
  • May 1926, vol 1., no. 2
  • June 1926, vol 1., no. 3
  • August 1926, vol 1., no 4
  • September 1926, vol 1., no. 5
  • October 1926, vol 1., no. 6
  • November 1926, vol 1., no. 7
  • December 1926, vol 1., no. 8
  • January 1927, vol 1., no 9
  • February 1927, vol 1., n0 10 (2 copies)
  • April 1927, vol. 2, no. 1
  • June 1927, vol 2, no. 2
  • December 1927, vol. 2, no. 3
  • January 1928, vol. 2, no. 4
  • March 1928, vol. 2, no. 5
  • April 1928, vol. 2, no. 6 (2 copies)
  • October 1928, vol. 2, no. 10
  • November 1928, vol. 2, no. 11
  • January 1929, vol. 3, no. 1
  • February 1929, vol. 3, no. 3
  • March 1929, vol. 3, no. 3
  • April 1929, vol. 3, no. 4
  • May 1939, vol. 3, no. 5
  • July 1929, vol. 3, no. 7
  • August 1929, vol. 3, no. 8
  • June 1930
  • July 1930

Journals of Long Island History

Long Island Historical Society Quarterly, 1939-1942;  The Journal of Long Island History, 1961-1969 and 1973-1982

From 1939-1942, 1961-1969, and 1973-1982, the Brooklyn Historical Society (known then as the Long Island Historical Society) published a periodic journal, called the Long Island Historical Society Quarterly in 1939-42 and, in the later years, The Journal of Long Island History. The journals include articles on historical topics concerning Kings, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties. Many of the articles, especially in the 1939-1942 volumes, include full or partial transcriptions of account books, correspondence, deeds, tombstone inscriptions, and other manuscripts from the BHS collection and elsewhere. While there is a wide range of subject matter, perhaps best-represented in the journal are articles concerning the colonial period through the 19th century, American Revolution, Civil War, and African-American history. No appointment is necessary to use the journals in the BHS library.

View an inventory of the journals of Long Island history here.

Portraits

Photographs and printed matter, including reproductions of drawings, engravings, and paintings, featuring people from Brooklyn and beyond ranging from the 18th to 20th centuries.  Organized alphabetically by last name of the person featured in the portrait.  An index is available here in the Portrait Collection Inventory.  Images are available upon request when visiting the library.

Scrapbooks

This collection is an accumulation of clippings from numerous Brooklyn and Long Island newspapers and magazines during the period circa 1860-1960.  The original clippings were assembled by staff members of the Brooklyn Historical Society.  Due to the deterioration of the original clippings, they now exist only on microfiche.  The collection numbers a total of 168 volumes, and its exhaustive scope makes it an excellent account of daily life in Long Island and Brooklyn from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries.

The collection is accompanied by a navigational card index, which is separated into two sections, one dedicated to Long Island, the other to Brooklyn.  Within each major division, the catalog is organized alphabetically by subject, individual, or business/organization.  Each card lists the volume and page numbers on which its described contents can be found.

Newspapers and magazines represented in the collection include The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, The Brooklyn Times, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s Weekly, Suffolk County News, The Long Island Forum, The Long Island Press, The World-Journal Tribune, and The New York Mirror, among many others.

Voter Registries

Brooklyn Historical Society’s collection of voter registries  represents the voting population in Brooklyn both before and after its consolidation as part of the City of New York.  Registries reflecting Brooklyn as an independent city prior to consolidation span the period 1872-1897, while post-consolidation registries only cover the years 1930-1937.  Currently, all registries are available to researchers in their original physical format.

The organization of the voter registries is mainly a numerical scheme, with the broadest level of arrangement being contingent on ward number (or, in the case of the post-consolidation registries, assembly district number). Each ward or assembly district is further broken down numerically by election district, then alphabetically by street.  Finally, within each street listing, individual voters are listed by their residence numbers.  Some registries, particularly those dating from the earlier periods, are also accompanied by an alphabetical index to street numbers, as well as a description of election district boundaries.

Each registry also contains specific personal information regarding every registered voter that may be helpful to researchers.  For example, all registries include such details as a voter’s age; how long each voter has lived in the state, county, and district; as well as any special remarks deemed useful by the Board of Elections, such as whether a voter is an African American, and whether a voter is illiterate or disabled.  Some registries include further descriptive information, such as a voter’s height, weight, hair color, and distinguishing features.

This collection is an especially excellent resource for researchers interested in Brooklyn’s housing history and/or genealogy.  Please be advised that the majority of the registries are in extremely fragile condition and should be handled with the utmost care.