I arrived in New York City on Friday to snow all over the ground. The taxi driver thought it might be the last big dump for winter. It was a glorious sunny weekend (in the 50s). I enjoyed walking the historic High Line and visiting Washington Square.
I had originally planned to visit the Ellis Island Immigration Museum but it (along with the Statue of Liberty) remains closed due to damage sustained as result of hurricane Sandy last October.
Today, a bonus to visiting the National Archives at New York City, was a chance to visit the Alexander Hamilton U. S. Custom House. The Archives shares the Federal Building with the National Museum of the American Indian, a component of the Smithsonian Institution. It is situated close to the Financial District of the city and Battery Point.
The Archives have very recently moved, only just over a month ago, to this location and are pleased to have three times the space than they had previously here in New York City. I was met immediately by Dorothy Dougherty, Public Programs Director in the very aptly named Welcome Centre.
We toured the Welcome Centre, Reading Room and Learning Centre, located on the 3rd floor of the building. The Archives also use the fourth floor for archive storage. There are two other major storage facilities for the Archives located in other parts of the country.
The Welcome Centre includes a fascinating exhibition using documents from the New York Archives and is a terrific introduction to the Archives as a first time visitor. The New York Archives are one of 44 sites around the country in addition to some Presidential Libraries. Holdings at New York consist of Federal records from New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands dating from 1680s to the 1990s. Visitors are welcome to conduct their own research using original records as well as access microfilm holdings and online resources including Ancestry and Fold3, Heritage Quest and ProQuest.
Acquiring a reader’s ticket with the appropriate identification is necessary to access original records. These can be viewed in a glassed off secure area at the end of the reading room. The reading room holds finding aids including information on passenger arrivals from Garden Island and Ellis Island. Major collections have now also been digitised and made accessible via the Ellis Island Free Search site and Ancestry. For example the New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957 and the New York Chinese Exclusion Index.
I asked Dorothy to describe the kind of research people came to the Archives to do. The majority of people came, she said, to look for their entitlement papers. First or second generation Americans looking for their naturalisation papers to prove citizenship for example, in order to move into aged care or acquire a passport. Researchers may also be looking for this evidence in order to apply for dual citizenships. Family History researchers also come to the Archives looking for evidence of family members in the government records.
Dorothy also showed me the impressive Learning Center. This space and its resources including themed kits with copies of records such as passenger list, census and naturalisation records and is used for educational programs for students, teacher workshops, genealogy workshops and more.
We also briefly spoke about the highly valued and active volunteers program. The exhibition program and the Citizen Archivist Dashboard. The Docs Teach website is a new online tool for teaching with documents.
As preparation for a visit to the Archives, researchers are encouraged to visit the Archives website first. The Research Our Records link in particular, accessible from the home page is a good launch pad. The ARC Galleries is also worth a browse for its themed collection of digitised photos.