What do you get when you mix an extremely common last name and the most populous city in the United States? A rip-roaring good time, that's what! That's right, I have Smiths in New York City and yes, to make matters even more fun, a lot of them are named the likes of John and Mary. BUT, they also happen to be one of my favorite families to research - although, for some reason I rarely blog about them. So why do I like researching my Smiths so much?
- New York City. The fact that they lived in New York City actually works in my favor because so many records exist, and many can be accessed through the click of a mouse. The big three, Ancestry ($), FamilySearch and the New England Historic Genealogical Society ($) have good collections. But the best kept secret has to be ItalianGen which has a lot of vital records - and not just for Italians.
- The cemeteries. Both Green-Wood in Brooklyn and Trinity Church Parish have websites and burial search engines. Since I have so many relatives, Smiths or otherwise, buried in both locations this makes me very happy. These sites came in especially handy the other day when I was looking for a Smith who seemed to fall off the face of the earth after reaching adulthood. I looked up his family members and there he was, buried in the family plot along with his death date. From there I found an obituary and a whole bunch of other Smiths.
- The newspapers. I use GenealogyBank ($) the most, but a free option I also love is Chronicling America. In fact there are a lot of New York (City or otherwise) papers online, see here for some locations. The New York Times Archives are a favorite of mine also, though I liked them a lot more before they imposed that 20 articles a month cap.
- The directories. Like newspapers, there are a lot of them online in different locations. I use Fold3 ($) the most, but there are many other places (free or $) which have directories - see here.
- The eBooks and texts. I like the NYPL page at the Internet Archive the most, but GoogleBooks is a place I frequently turn to as well.
- The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society ($). I know they haven't made the news for the best reasons over the last few years, but I am a very happy member. Their eLibrary has been especially helpful in researching my NYC families.
- The names. Or more appropriately, the middle names. Almost all of my Smiths had a middle name and they usually made a point of incorporating it to some degree in their records. What is more is that a lot of the middle names are pretty unique family names (i.e. Bostwick, Holly, Floyd, Plaine, Cayuga, Westervelt, etc.). When I first started researching them, I often left out the middle name with bad results. I either was overwhelmed with Smiths, or I missed out on valuable hits which included the middle name.
- The other relatives. I can't speak for everyone, but with my NYC ancestors, following their name in a record was usually a "son of" or "wife of" mention. This likely speaks more to the size of New York City than to newspapers and record keepers wanting to please future generations. But, I for one am thankful! This is particularly nice when dealing with a surname like Smith and an equally common first name.
- They kept their NYC ties. I have ancestors, including my Smiths, who left the Big Apple for outposts, swamps, farms and general wilderness, yet their obituaries/death notices (as well as some other articles) usually appeared in NYC papers. Again, I can't speak for everyone, but my NYC ancestors clearly kept in touch with family back home (I just wish my other ancestors who left home did the same) and for that I am so happy - and lucky!
If you also have Smiths in New York City, well, then we still probably aren't related, but the above resources might prove helpful in researching them (and non-Smiths too).
Disclosure: I have no affiliation with any of the websites or companies mentioned in this post. Pay sites mentioned are ones I have personally subscribed to and their mention here is not to be taken as an endorsement of them or their parent companies. I received no remuneration for this post by any entity.