Genealogy Tip: Don’t Forget the Card Files!

Many novice family history researchers assume that everything they need is online. Unfortunately, we all eventually realize that this is not the case, and venturing into archives, libraries, and other repositories is necessary.

One resource that seemingly has moved entirely to the digital space are catalog listings – even if you have to find a source in person, at least you’re able to search online to find it and essential information about its location.

But even here, there are notable exceptions that you cannot afford to overlook – there are still many treasures that cannot be easily discovered without using “old fashioned” card catalogs. Our The Winter 2016 issue of The New York Researcher details numerous collections of card files found throughout New York State and New York City.

Read the latest issue of The New York Researcher online

Card files are most valuable for locating the many sources that have yet to be digitized. The great thing about card files – they’re everywhere!

Many libraries have digitized some, but not all of their card files. Wherever you are researching, make sure to ask the librarian or archivist if there are any offline card catalogs available to peruse.

Buffalo & Erie County Card Files

Cards from the Local History File of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library

The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library has a dozen collections of card files that are useful to genealogists:

  • Local History File
  • Buffalo Business File
  • Coat of Arms Index
  • Famous Visitors File (the word “famous” is used rather liberally)
  • Grosvenor Genealogy Catalog
  • Pan-American Exposition Index
  • Picture File
  • Prominent Black Buffalonians
  • Ransom File
  • Vital Index of Early Western New York Families
  • Bible Record Index
  • Locality Finder

Rhonda Konig (MLS) – a genealogy librarian currently serving as the Genealogy Specialist in the Grosvenor Room at the Central Library in Downtown Buffalo – goes in-depth on each of these files in the latest issue of The New York Researcher. Members can read the issue online today and should expect their print copies very soon.

New York City Card Files

Two cards from the New York City Picture File

Even The New York City Public Library – a perennial powerhouse of digitization – has some really valuable card file collections that you can only access in person:

  • New York City Picture File: This is an index to photographs and illustrations of New York City from local histories, architectural histories, memoirs, government publications, and historical guidebooks.
  • Ships Index: This index to technical specifications about vessels (including photographs and illustrations) was originally a creation of the NYPL Science and Technology Division, but is incredibly useful for genealogists and historians.
  • Military Index: Researchers will find citations to a wealth of military record sources in this index. The file covers conflicts from King Phillip’s War up to the Mexican Border War of 1916.

Ruth A. Carr (MA, MLS), a former Chief Librarian of the Milstein Division of the NYPL, covers these collections in great detail (including essential tips for using them) in the featured article of the Winter 2016 issue of The New York Researcher.

The article is available for members to read online now, and the print edition should be arriving in mailboxes everywhere very soon.

Read the full article for some information on Broome County card files, and make sure to let us know if you know of any valuable card file collections.

In the next issue of The New York Researcher, we will cover card files at the Onondaga County Public Library and the New York State Library.


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