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The New York Public Library continues to amaze us.

The New York Times ran an article recently – Secret of the Stacks.  The library encompasses four major research libraries and 87 branches, with a total of 20 million books, 50 million cataloged items and a growing demand in this recession for loaner laptops and other free services. Only the Library of Congress and the British Library are larger. But even the Fifth Avenue landmark by itself is a marvel of big numbers. It is undergoing a $1.2 billion makeover in preparation for its 100th birthday. Built from 1899 to 1911, it cost $9 million, contains 530,000 cubic feet of white Vermont marble and 125 miles of shelving, and opened with an inventory of one million items.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library Inquiry Desk 1923

It highlights unique and unknown facts about the library:

  • Most Faithful Customer : Norbert Pearlroth, the head researcher for “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” visited the library almost daily. Although he wrote about the incredible, his own routine was anything but: He sat at the same table for 52 years, from 1923 to 1975.
  • Menu collection : The library has 40,000 restaurant menus, the world’s largest collection, dating from the 1850s to the present. It is heavily used by chefs, novelists and researchers; a few years ago, a marine biologist consulted menus from the early 1900s for a study of fish populations.
  • Curiosities : The most bizarre item, not counting those skull fragments from Percy Bysshe Shelley in Room 319, has to be Charles Dickens’s favorite letter-opener. The shaft is ivory, but the handle is the embalmed paw of his beloved cat, Bob, toenails and all.

The library has a great collection of images on Flickr and most images have no known copyright restrictions. 1,300 photographs in all and cover various events and subjects. It is part of the Commons on Flickr which is described as the world’s public photo collection. This collection is useful for research, history and browsing.  There are many of libraries and museums that are contributing to the project as well.

My Great Grandpa Tom (middle), photo credit Texas Energy Museum

Great Grandpa Tom (middle), photo credit Texas Energy Museum

When researching our family roots, we tend to look in the typical places. Census reports,, libraries and oral histories from your family members are the best sources for building a foundation. But how do you add flavor to your research and how do you illustrate the lives our ancestors lived? Looking at the non-typical places can be a needle in a haystack, but it can bring a pleasant surprise.

One of our member’s mother was recently touring the Texas Energy Museum and discovered a photo of her grandfather. Imagine walking by photos and seeing a photo of your grandfather hanging on a wall. The photo was of men working on an oil rig and there was Grandpa Tom right in the middle. What a great surprise and a wonderful image of seeing your grandfather in his youth.

Some ideas where you might find your Great Grandpa

Keep your eyes open, you never know what you’ll find.

*Please remember most images are copyrighted and some are public domain, so always ask before using.

Uncle Sam

To boost moral between WWI and WWII, English photographer Arthur S Mole and American colleague John D Thomas were commissioned to make images of patriotism. They created Living Pictures, pictures compose of thousands of people to form patriotic illustrations.

Amazing.  Might be interesting to see how they would be done today.

Mole and Thomas: living pictures formed by thousands of US soldiers