Photographs Past + Digital Present

Two women having tea and looking at photographs. Reina Lawrence photo collection, part of the digital archives of the Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield, NJ.

Although I worry occasionally about what will happen to old-style newspaper clippings and photo files, I don’t hate new-style. Digital archives are the most amazing gift to the researcher. For instance, anyone who can remember when unearthing and reviewing vintage photographs meant a special appointment at a special library probably gets a sneaky thrill when paging through a digital photo archive. It’s just too easy.

Here are some of my favorite photo places.

• Plainfield (NJ) Public Library, local-history collections: Near and dear to my heart because I grew up in the town next door, North Plainfield. The collection’s main focus is Plainfield, naturally enough, but a fair amount of images from my hometown can be found here. Beyond photos, the site includes blueprints, postcards and online exhibits. Here’s the link for the photograph search engine.

New York City Municipal Archives. A person could spend way too much time here, and frequently does. The scores of  New York City images are catalogued by topic for easy browsing. In addition, you can go here for information on how to ask for a search of the Tax Photos, which were taken of every building in New York’s five boroughs between 1939 and 1941 and also in the 1980s. They’re not searchable online, but if you know an ancestor’s address in New York it might be worth asking for a search to see if you can order a photo of their house.

The Brooklyn Library’s Brooklyn Collection. The library now has a Flickr site with tons of Brooklyn photos. Some are organized into specific collections; or you can just root around. Not that I would complain about that.

Kindergarten May Day party in Montclair, 1925. Photo by Norman M. Germond, Montclair Public Library's historical photo collection.

The Montclair (NJ) Public Library. This is my hometown now, and it has a beautiful online photo collection, too. The only complaint I have is that it can be a little tricky to navigate to from the main library page. (It’s Databases by Subject/Genealogy-Local History/Montclair Images, in case you were wondering.) But once there, you can have a lot of fun using keyword searches to pull up collections of photos by topic.

Those are some of my favorite photo places. What are yours?


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