The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are

On Wednesday, October 28th, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library hosted author Libby Copeland for an online discussion about her book, The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are. Ms. Copeland’s fascinating book weaves intriguing stories of unexpected DNA discoveries through an intelligent dialogue about the ethics, science, and business of consumer genetic testing. The Lost Family is great book to read if you are considering DNA testing for genealogy, or are an avid genealogist already using DNA in family history research. This event was in partnership with the Western New York Genealogical Society.

Signed and personalized copies of The Lost Family are available through the Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, N.Y.  To order a copy, call the bookstore at (914)-769-8322 (attention: Jennifer Kohn).

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Buffalo Building Permits Index, 1887-1906

If you’ve ever tried to find out when a Buffalo building was built, you may have looked through the volumes of the Common Council Proceedings in the Grosvenor Room. For many years, building permits were approved by the Common Council and listed in the published annual proceedings.  Permits were required for wood frame buildings (most houses), but not for brick or stone construction. The permits listed in the Proceedings usually provide this brief description:

  • The name of the permit requestor (builder/home owner/business name)
  • Dimensions of proposed construction
  • Location–lot number, address, street name, and/or distance from nearby streets
1901 Buffalo Common Council Proceedings, page 1671

You can estimate when a house was built by using other sources, such as the Buffalo property records or city directories, and then browse the relevant years of the Proceedings.  Each volume has an index at the front with a section for Permits. 

For 1887 to 1906, this Permit section is in alphabetical order by the last name of the permit requestor, not by the street. We recently created an index by address/street to make searching a lot easier for these years. This was an extensive project for our staff, and we are happy to finally make it available online!

Click here for the Index, 1887-1906.

Click here for instructions and tips for using the Index.

While this Index and the Common Council Proceedings provide a good start for research, for more information on a Buffalo building, contact the Permit & Inspection Services office at City Hall:

Permit & Inspection Services

65 Niagara Square, Room 301

Buffalo, NY 14202

Phone: 716-851-4926

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Buffalo LGBTQ History

In celebration of Pride Month, we’re highlighting some of the historic Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) resources in the Grosvenor Room’s local history collection. The Buffalo Collection includes LGBTQ books, directories, creative writing, and other publications.

Our Vertical File on the Gay & Lesbian Community also includes newspaper and magazine articles, pamphlets, programs from Pride Week events, and other short publications.

The selected items featured in the photo above are listed in the online catalog. Click on the links to see the available years:

For more LGBTQ local history, check out these other Buffalo resources:

LGBTQ History in the Buffalo NY Area: A Bibliography by the Buffalo History Museum

The Madeline Davis Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Archives of Western New York at Buffalo State College

Posted in Local History | Tagged | Comments Off on Buffalo LGBTQ History Available this summer through B&ECPL, a vessel research database, is now available via the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.  The database will be accessible through (at least) September of this year through the generosity of Peter McCracken, the database’s creator, due to the pandemic.  ShipIndex can be used in-library at every B&ECPL location, or from home with a valid B&ECPL card

McCracken’s database is an excellent resource to help tell your immigrant ancestors’ stories.  It is an index to books and periodicals that feature sailing vessels.  The project stemmed from his work as an intern at a maritime museum.

All that you need to get started is the name of the ship on which your ancestor travelled.  Ancestry Library Edition (ALE) is an excellent resource for passenger records.  ALE is available for use at every B&ECPL location.  You can even bring in your personal laptop/tablet and access it via the library’s Wi-Fi. It’s such a time saver to be able to download record images directly to your device.  For advice on finding your ancestor’s passenger list, click here to view our on demand class.  One of the tools mentioned in the class is the Grosvenor Room’s passenger list guide, which highlights resources available for use at the Central Library and online.

A search for Western New York Polish immigrant, Julianna Golubski, was successful. Julianna and her four young children are passenger numbers 880-884 on this 1884 list.

Image: Ancestry Library Edition

Once you’ve identified your ancestor’s manifest, the name of the ship and the ship master can be found on the top of the first page of the manifest.  A typical passenger ship, during periods of heavy immigration, carried hundreds (sometimes over a thousand) passengers, so manifests are usually multiple pages.

The header on the first page of the Golubski’s list shows that the family travelled from Bremen, Germany to New York City. They arrived on April 12th, 1884 on the steamer Werra. The ship’s master was Julius Barre.

Image: Ancestry Library Edition

ShipIndex is easy to use.  Simply input the name of the ship in the Search box.

Image: ShipsIndex

Seventy-two citations from twenty-three sources result.  Publication information is clearly displayed as well as applicable page numbers. Links to websites and online books, libraries that carry the resource, and book vendors are provided.  Citations pointing to illustrations are clearly marked.

Image: ShipsIndex

It is common to see multiple ships with the same name.  The citations often include the built date in parentheses next to the ship name.  The Werra’s results include the dates 1876, 1882, 1891, 1922, 1923, 1958, 1974, and 2001. Since the Golubskis sailed in 1884, it is easy to eliminate all but the first two years.  The next thing to look at is the type of ship. The passenger list noted that the Werra was a steamer.  The 1882 ship is listed as a steamer, but the 1876 ship is listed as a barque, which has sails.  

Image: ShipsIndex

Furthermore, one of the citations links to the 1884 edition of Record of American and Foreign Shipping records, which names J. Barre as master of the Werra (1882.)  Julius Barre was the master on the Golubski’s 1884 manifest. 

Image; Record of American and Foreign Shipping 1884. Mystic Seaport Museum.

An analysis of the sources cited, using the Central Library’s collection and online sources, provides a closer look at the Golubski’s voyage. The following details were discovered:

The Werra was built in July, 1882 by John Elder in Glasgow, Scotland.  It was a four-deck, four-mast iron screw steamer.  The 433 ft. long x 46 ft. wide ship had a tonnage capacity of 5109. The company that owned it was North German Lloyd (not associated with Lloyd’s Register of Shipping) or in German, Norddeutscher Lloyd.  The Werra was part of its express fleet and it could travel at 17 knots (about 19.5 miles) per hour.  The North German line travelled bi-weekly from Bremen to Southampton to New York City and the route took about 8 days to travel. The Werra could hold 125 first class passengers, 130 second class passengers, and 1000 third class passengers.   Click here for an image of the Werra.

ShipIndex is an excellent tool, but don’t forget to look in the stacks. 

Here are some good subject search terms to use with our online catalog:


Sailing Ships


Ships History

Ships, Wooden


Happy Hunting!

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Celebrating Juneteenth

June 19th marks the celebration of Juneteenth, the oldest national commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.  It is also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Black Independence Day.

On June 19th, 1865, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, Texas bringing news that the war had ended and that enslaved people were now free. The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the proclamation, and many slave owners continued to enslave people. With the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, Union forces were finally strong enough to enforce abolition in Texas. Juneteenth became a symbolic date representing African American freedom.

Buffalo Challenger, July 7, 1976, page 10

“The Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo was started in 1976 by B.U.I.L.D., a community-based organization, as a culturally relevant alternative to the country’s Bicentennial Celebration. The group blocked off part of Jefferson Avenue — the “Main Street” of Buffalo’s Black community — for a weekend celebration. Murals were painted and vendors set up booths to sell ethnic foods and wares — entertainment and festivity were abundant. After several years, the Juneteenth Festival outgrew Jefferson Avenue. It is now held in Martin Luther King Jr. Park at the intersection of Best Street and Fillmore Avenue.”

Photographs from the Buffalo Challenger newspaper documented that first Juneteenth celebration in Buffalo. July 7, 1976, pages 10 & 11.

This year’s Juneteenth of Buffalo celebration will be a virtual festival. See the festival website for details.

Currently on display at the Central Library is the exhibit entitled Telling the Story: Enslavement of African People in the United States. It combines a history of slavery in America along with items from the Rare Book Room’s History of Slavery Collection that document legal arguments, the lives of enslaved people, and literature created in response to slavery.

The exhibit is also available online as a virtual 3D experience.

As Frederick Douglass so aptly put it, “Slavery is the great test question of our age and nation.” In many ways it still is, as our country is still dealing with the repercussions of the systematic and institutional enslavement of Africans. This exhibit seeks to highlight the History of Slavery Collection and, perhaps more ambitiously, to provoke constructive dialog about our country’s history of enslavement and its continuing aftermath.

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The Grosvenor Room is Open!

We are happy to announce that the Central Library has re-opened, including the Grosvenor Room. To help plan your visit, see our many research guides which are available for free on our website.

For more information on the opening of the Library (including new COVID-19 requirements for visitors) click here.

To see (adjusted) Library hours click here.

We look forward to assisting you on your visit!

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Playful Sheet Music to Brighten Your Day

Many of you know that the Grosvenor Room is home to numerous songbooks which can be browsed when you visit us. But, did you know that we have a hidden gem? The Central Library is home to about 100,000 pieces of individual sheet music dating from the late 1700s to the 2000s. The sheet music collection includes popular piano and vocal music, presidential songs, works by local composers such as Harold Arlen, Buffalo-themed songs, waltzes, and polkas.

The sheet music is kept in a place that we call the Tier, and is accessible only to staff. If you are interested in a particular song, let staff know and we can help. We even have a partial sheet music index by subject, if you are researching a particular theme.

Many of the sheet music covers are striking, such as the playful covers below.

We hope you visit us when the Library reopens. But, in the meantime, here are some websites where you can browse more fabulous sheet music art.

Library of Congress –

Duke University –

Sheet Music Consortium –


University of Oregon –

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Getting the Most out of HeritageQuest Online

HeritageQuest Online is a powerful tool for family history research . It is a subscription genealogy database available for use at home with a valid Buffalo & Erie County Public Library card (and in-library at every Buffalo & Erie County Public Library location once we re-open). If you are an Erie County resident, and don’t have a library card, click here to apply for an eLibraryCard. HeritageQuest includes U.S. census records, city directories, local and family history books, Freedman’s Bank Records, Revolutionary War pension files, the U.S. Serial Set, an obituary index and more!

The following videos detail how to get the most out of HeritageQuest Online.

Part I: Accessing HeritageQuest and Searching U S Census Records

Part II: Searching Books and Directories

Part III: Freedman’s Bank Records

Part IV: Revolutionary War Pension Files

Part V: Searching U.S. Obituaries

Part VI: Social Security Death Index

Happy Hunting!

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Digital Collection Contest!

Little Harlem Club Band. Photograph from BECPL Digital Collections

The Library’s Digital Collections provide online access to selected newspapers, photographs, scrapbooks, diaries, and other treasures from the Rare Book Room, Grosvenor Room, and branch libraries.

Explore the Digital Collections by searching for the answers to the 10 questions on the contest form linked here:

One winner will be randomly chosen from the correct entries and receive a prize of a print from our online store:

Eligibility: This contest is open to Erie County residents/BECPL cardholders. Library employees and their families are not eligible.

Contest runs from May 30 to June 19, 2020.

Here are some tips:

To navigate to the different digital items, you can view all or browse by the Category seen in the image below.

Once you are viewing a collection, you can browse or search within.

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Buffalo Music History Resources

The Grosvenor Room has many resources to help you research Buffalo’s rich music history.   The Buffalo Collection includes books on music organizations and musicians, as well as scrapbooks and newspaper clipping files. Check out our new research guide on Buffalo Music History.

We have a unique collection of thousands of programs chronicling music performances from the 1840s to the present, from piano recitals in private homes to concerts by famous conductors, orchestras, and opera singers. Fifty selected programs from the collection are available online in our digital collection – Historic Buffalo Theater and Music Programs.

The bulk of the collection is from 1860 to 1930 and includes performances of dance, opera, musical comedy, orchestras, chamber music, choirs, and instrumental ensembles. Many local venues hosted famous musicians and composers including Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Jenny Lind, Geraldine Farrar, Maurice Ravel, Walter Damrosch, Gustave Mahler, Lily Pons, and Serge Rachmaninoff.

Buffalo audiences also heard the music of opera companies and symphonies from New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Early Buffalo orchestras and singing societies, including the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Orpheus, and Chromatic Club, are also documented in this collection, as are the music halls, theatres, social clubs, museums, and other venues at which they performed.

Zorah Berry Collection
Zorah Berry, Beach Photograph, circa 1930s

Many of these notable musicians and ensembles were brought to Buffalo concert halls by successful female impresarios, including Mai Davis Smith, Marian de Forest, Louise Michael, Genevieve Kraft, Bessie Bellanca, and Zorah Berry. Smith, De Forest, and Berry also saved photographs of the renowned performers they met, many of which are autographed. These make up the core of another unique resource in the Grosvenor Room, the [Performing Artists Photograph Collection], 1890-1976.

Ann Montgomery

Another successful entrepreneur in Buffalo music history is Ann Montgomery, who operated The Little Harlem Club/Hotel on Michigan Avenue. From the 1930s through early 1960s, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and others performed at her nightclub. A selection of programs and photographs from the club are featured in another digital collection – Ann Montgomery’s Little Harlem.

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