Black History in Buffalo

Blacks in Buffalo cover

In celebration of Black History month, we’re highlighting some of the historic resources in the Grosvenor Room’s local history collection.

The first Buffalo directory, published in 1828, printed a list of “Names of Coloured People,” documenting early Black settlers in the village. This list is available reprinted in the 1876 City Directory.  The next published directory, 1832, also has a page listing Coloured People.  This practice was discontinued in subsequent directories.

1828 city directory colored people

1828 list, reprinted in 1876 Buffalo City Directory.


The Buffalo Collection includes books on the local African-American community; a few are pictured below.  These popular books, and additional titles, are listed in our Black History in Buffalo research guide.


Black History books


The Buffalo scrapbook collection includes one volume titled Negroes in Buffalo: Clippings, 1930, 1936 & 1940.  Newspaper clippings are from an African-American paper, the Buffalo Star, along with others from the daily papers–Buffalo Times, Courier-Express, and Buffalo Evening News.  The following pages document “Negro History Week” in 1930 and 1931.

Negro Scrapbook 2

Langston Hughes poem

Negroes in Buffalo Scrapbook, pages 2-3.

Further African-American newspapers published in Buffalo and preserved in our collection include:

Challenger: Sept 12, 1963 – present.

Criterion: 1964 – present. Various issues 1954-1987 also online through NY Historic Newspapers.

Empire Star: January 1946 to December 1961.

For additional resources, please see our other African-American research guides focusing on family history, the Underground Railroad, and the Niagara Movement.



Posted in Local History | Tagged

Buffalo History books of 2018


The “New Books” shelf in the Grosvenor Room–check here for new titles!

In case you missed some of the local history titles published recently, here are a few of the popular books added to the Buffalo Collection in 2018.  Some may have been published prior to 2018, but are new to our collection.

Copies in the Grosvenor Room are reference only, which means we’ll always have them on hand for you to view. However, many of the books we add to the collection also have circulating copies elsewhere you can take home, whether from Central, or another B&ECPL branch.  Search our catalog or click on the links below to see available copies.


BABEL : the first 10 years. [Just Buffalo Literary Center]. Barbara Cole, editor.

Albright: the life and times of John J. Albright by Mark Goldman.

History of Buffalo music and entertainment: A nostalgic journey into Buffalo New York’s musical heritage from the 1830s to the early 1980s by Rick Falkowski.

A closer look at the Guaranty Building: Louis H. Sullivan’s masterpiece by Doreen Boyer DeBoth.

World War II Buffalo by Gretchen E. Knapp.

Buffalo memories IV: the early years and the 1960s [Buffalo News].

For more recently published Buffalo books, see this list in the catalog.

Posted in Local History | Tagged ,

Passing on Your Family’s Legacy

The holiday season is filled with family, friends, and togetherness.  Why not take the opportunity at this year’s family gatherings to begin passing on your family’s legacy?


Make traditions a part of everyday life.  Involve everyone and be sure to explain to young family members why you carry them out and the importance of each element.  Share stories about the family members who started a tradition or who brought one over as an immigrant.  Even if all of your family members do not follow the same traditions, YOU can still carry them out and younger generations can decide what traditions they would like to keep.  At the very least, they will remember you and your values.


Food is a common denominator across all generations. The smell and taste of our favorite dishes wraps us in the warmth of happy memories.

Ensure that your family’s favorite recipes are not lost over time. Involve children in cooking them when they are young. Make it fun.  Make it a privilege to put in certain ingredients or to use certain tools like a mixer or rolling pin.

Share your recipes.  Family members will appreciate it if you keep your recipe cards authentic (stains and all.) Photocopy or scan them.  Put them together in a binder and give them to your children and grandchildren. If they are difficult to read, include newly- typed versions of the recipes too.  If you are creative, make a recipe scrapbook.  Include memories and family photographs, such as pictures of the person who originated the recipe and of the dish itself.  Remember to add in those special touches that may not be on the recipe card, such as using a particular type of pan, adding more of an ingredient to taste, how long to knead the dough, etc.

Family History

Begin recording your family’s history now.  Memories can be lost in an instant, and that memory just lost may be the key to solving a family history puzzle.

Start with the most important details: names, dates, places of residence, and family relationships.  Begin with yourself and work back one generation at a time. Ask relatives what they know, especially those of an older generation.  If you are from the oldest generation, ask cousins.  Their parents may have shared different family details than yours did.  There are many free downloadable/editable/printable family trees and other genealogy forms online.  There are also websites that let you input family tree data online for free.

If you decide to dig deeper into your ancestry, come visit us in the Grosvenor Room.  The Grosvenor Room’s main genealogical focus is Erie County, but there are numerous resources for Western New York, New York State, the East Coast, and beyond.  The B&ECPL offers genealogy databases including Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest Online.  Both databases can be used at any B&ECPL location and HeritageQuest can be used from home with a valid B&ECPL card.  Our most important resource in the Grosvenor Room is our library staff.  They are knowledgeable about family history research and look forward to assisting you when you visit.

Capture Your Family’s Stories and Personalities 

Journals and Q&A Books

Write about your life or your memories of relatives.  Don’t worry about the need to be an exceptional writer. Just put your personality in it.  If handwriting or typing is too difficult for you, get a family member to help. Ask grandchildren or nieces and nephews. Offer them their favorite meal or a trip to get ice cream as “payment” for helping you.  This is a good way to help insure that they will hear your story and this way they will be more likely to remember it.  Do it in short spurts so as to not overwhelm them.

Start a new holiday tradition.  Buy a question and answer book and have each family member pick a question to answer.  Or buy a blank journal and have everyone write down a favorite family story.  Make it quick and casual to alleviate the pressure of making their entries perfect or taking too much time away from visiting with each other.

Video and Audio Recording

Seek out the family technology wiz and see what creative ideas they may have for capturing family interviews. Let family members talk about what they think is important.  If you need help with getting the conversation going, see what books your local library may have about interviewing and oral history techniques.  Look for question ideas online. 


Instead of forcing family members to take the staged and uncomfortable annual family photograph, ask everyone to provide you with a copy of a few of their favorite photos of themselves.  Get their input as to the most cherished photos of deceased loved ones or important places and events.  Scan them, print them on photo paper and make copies for everyone.  Be sure to label the photographs so that names and faces aren’t forgotten.

Consider DNA Testing

Though contemporary DNA tests cannot provide us with our entire family history, they are helpful in genealogy research. Today’s tests can provide a list of genetic family members as well as ethnicity predictions for the last several generations.  And, who knows what the future holds?  Plus, this time of year, there are many deep discount sales on DNA testing.

If you or a loved one decide to test, be sure that access to the DNA account is given to family members.  Provide family with login information and the right to inherit the account through a will.  DNA testing companies may not provide access  to the account if descendants cannot prove a right to it.

In the near future, some DNA testing companies may offer artifact testing, specifically letters and postcards.  At least one major company predicts that it will offer testing of stamps and envelopes that may have DNA from your ancestors’ saliva.  Keep any letters, envelopes, or postcards in a safe place for future testing.

Talk to your doctor if you are considering medical DNA testing.

Think Practically

Keep your family history materials well-labeled, organized and to a minimum.  The more manageable and accessible your materials are, the more likely family members are to keep them or pass them on to an institution that will take them.  Make a list of potential libraries and societies that may be willing to accept your materials in the case your family cannot keep them.

Keep Preservation in Mind

Archival Materials

If you can, use archival quality materials to store and record your family’s history. These materials will not easily deteriorate, fade, or discolor.  Use acid free paper, pens, adhesives, folders, photo albums, and storage boxes.

Do not laminate your documents or photos. Lamination uses heat and adhesives that will cause the item to deteriorate or speed up the deterioration process. Instead, store your original documents and make duplicates to show family members and friends.

Electronic Media

Electronic media is a great way to save space. It also allows for easy duplication and document sharing.  But, enhancements and changes to electronic media happen rapidly.  Think of how many of us can play/read a phonograph record, cassette, VHS tape, or floppy disk anymore.  Know that electronic media such as that used to read and record digital photographs, audio, video, and word processing documents, will eventually go obsolete.  Be prepared to upgrade files and formats to keep media usable.

When you scan or record, be sure to use archival standards in terms of file size, format, and storage media.

Storage Location 

Avoid areas such as attics, basements, and out buildings.  Temperature fluctuations and moisture will ruin your files, photographs, and artifacts.  They will cause curling, discoloration, deterioration, and possibly mold.

If you have an artifact that already has mold on it, consider how important it is to you.  If it is something of lesser importance, like a newspaper clipping, you may want to make a high quality reproduction of the item (photocopy/scan) and discard the original.  If it is an important, irreplaceable item, keep it separate from your other documents as mold can spread.  The Smithsonian provides good advice on dealing with moldy documents at this link.

Consider keeping your most precious heirlooms in a fireproof safe or box.


Accidents and natural disasters happen.  Give copies of the final products of your family history projects and of your most precious heirlooms to multiple family members.  This way if tragedy strikes, your hard work will be kept safe at an alternate location.

For More Information on Preservation:

Posted in Genealogy

A Taste of History

We’re celebrating American Archives Month this October by highlighting local food history in our collection!  The Buffalo Collection includes several cookbooks compiled by community organizations and businesses, as well as professional and amateur chefs. Even the B&ECPL Staff Association produced a few over the years.

Below are just a few of the cookbooks are available for perusal in the Grosvenor Room, and there are additional copies of some titles that can be checked out.  Perhaps you’ll rediscover a old favorite recipe or find an unusual dish to try.


 Some of the historic recipes in our collection can be found in these titles:

Best sellers cookbook / Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (N.Y.) Staff Association. Lenexa, Kan.: Cookbook Publishers, [1982]. TX715 .B48553

BRAG’s soul food cook book 1971 / Buffalo Rights Action Group. Buffalo, N.Y., [publisher not identified], 1971. TX715 .B8233 1971

The Children’s Hospital of Buffalo cookbook / Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. Josephine Goodyear Committee. Buffalo, N.Y.: Thorner-Sidney Press, 1962. TX715 .C5295 1962

A book of recipes covering three generations of the Farny and Wurlitzer family and the wives of present business associates / Rudolph Wurlitzer Company. [North Tonawanda, N.Y.], [publisher not identified], [1956]. TX725 .W8 1956

Blizzard cookbook / Turgeon, Kitty. [East Aurora, N. Y.] : [Roycroft Campus Gift Shop], 1978. TX715 .T94

The best of Buffalo: A cultural cookbook of area restaurants / Gentner, Norma L. Buffalo : The Author, [1980]. TX715 .G4

Na zdrowie! = “To your health”; authentic Polish recipes and memories of a Lackawanna tavern keeper / Rog, Helen Jakubowski. Buffalo, NY: The Cookbook as Legacy, [1992]. TX723.5.P6 R58 1992

Cookbooks recent

Recently published local cookbooks include the following:

Food for four seasons / Seychew, Christa Glennie.  Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Spree, [2013]. TX715 .F66 2013

Buffalo cooks with Janice Okun: memories and recipes from a life in food / Okun, Janice. Buffalo, NY: Western New York Wares, Inc., [2010]. TX715 .O386 2010

Great Lake effects: Buffalo beyond winter and wings; a cookbook / Junior League of Buffalo. TX715 .G81145 1997 Buffalo, N.Y.  The League, [1997]

Nickel City Chef: Buffalo’s finest chefs and ingredients / Seychew, Christa Glennie.  Buffalo, N.Y.: Buffalo Heritage Unlimited, [2011]. TX714 .S48 2011

Cookbooks_Beer books

As for drinks, we can’t forget our brewing history.  These books on Buffalo beer are popular with local historians and brewing enthusiasts.

Buffalo beer: The history of brewing in the Nickel City / Rizzo, Michael F. Charleston, SC: American Palate, 2015. HD9397.U63 R69 2015

Nickel City drafts: a drinking history of Buffalo, NY / Murphy, Dan. Buffalo, N.Y.: Western New York Wares, [2010]. GT2890 .M87 2010

Rushing the growler: A history of brewing in Buffalo / Powell, Stephen R. Buffalo, N.Y.: Apogee Productions, [1999]. HD9397.U63 B88 1999

becpl owl with border

We couldn’t resist adding this image of our old owl logo from the 1982 Best sellers cookbook  by the B&ECPL Staff Association. Bon appétit!

Posted in Library History, Local History | Tagged , ,

Saying Goodbye to Summer

The turning of the new fall season has us taking a last look at lush trees and full foliage. These charming 1930s pictures are part of the Grosvenor Room Collection and can be found in the Trees in and Around Buffalo scrapbook.

Scrapbook Tree Scans 2_editedScrapbook Tree Scans 3_1editedScrapbook Tree Scans 2 - 2 Copy_editedScrapbook Tree Scans 5_2editedScrapbook Tree Scans 5_1editedScrapbook Tree Scans 3_2editedScrapbook Tree Scans 4_1editedScrapbook Tree Scans 4_2editedDelaware Ave.

Posted in Local History | Tagged

110th Anniversary of The NY to Paris Race

Flyer image

In 1908, a car manufactured in Buffalo gained international acclaim by winning the an unprecedented  “New York to Paris Race.”

At the dawn of the 20th century, automobiles were an infant technology with none of the infrastructure we take for granted today: road maps, traffic signals, pavement, gas stations, fast food, parking lots, expressways, or motels. Most people in the world had never seen a car in person.

What, then, could be more fun than the first ’round-the-world automobile race under such punishing conditions? In the summer of 1907, Paris newspaper Le Matin and the New York Times announced “The Great Race: New York to Paris by Automobile.” Four nations entered six cars: Italy, with the Brixia Zust; Germany, with the Protos; France, with the De Dion, the Moto-Bloc, and the Sizaire-Naudin; and the United States, with the Thomas Flyer.

Legend has it that the Thomas Flyer entered the race at the insistence of President Theodore Roosevelt, who hated the prospect of European automobiles crossing the country unchallenged by Americans.  The Thomas Automobile Company of Buffalo pulled one of its production models out of the factory at the last minute and entered the race. Buffalo’s own George Schuster was driver and chief mechanic.

The starting line, on February 12, 1908, was in Times Square. Two hundred and fifty thousand people turned out to watch. The route crossed the country to San Francisco. There, drivers shipped out to Alaska and drove to the Bering Strait, where they ferried across and pushed through Russia to Europe, finishing at the Eiffel Tower. Organizers estimated the trip to take six months and the route to be 20,000 miles long.

Newspapers around the world followed the progress of the race. The Sizaire-Naudin didn’t get past the snowdrifts of the Hudson Valley before dropping out. The Moto-Bloc got lost in the farm fields of Iowa and withdrew. The Protos was caught cheating when the driver boarded it on a train and received a 30-day penalty. Fearing bandits and the brutal weather of Siberia, the De Dion backed out in Russia.

The Protos crossed the finish line first, but factoring in its penalty, did not win the race. The Thomas Flyer arrived in Paris on Friday, July 31, 1908, 170 days after leaving Times Square, the true winner. Buffalo was ecstatic and threw George Schuster a hero’s welcome party in Cazenovia Park that drew 10,000 people.

thomas flyer headline

Buffalo Sunday Morning News, September 6, 1908, p. 7

thomas flyer text

Buffalo Sunday Morning News, September 6, 1908, p. 7


The victory of the Thomas Flyer briefly boosted sales for the Thomas Automobile Company, but mechanical flaws in subsequent models doomed the company and all production ceased in 1913. Its factory at 1200 Niagara Street is now owned by Rich Products and bears a plaque honoring its achievements.  In addition to winning the race, E.R. Thomas was also one of the world’s first commercial manufacturers of motorcycles and taxicabs.

The winning Thomas Flyer was restored to finish-line condition under the supervision of George Schuster, who died in Springville in 1972 at age 99. The car is on exhibit at the National Automobile Museum of Nevada.

This year, the modern incarnation of “The Great Race” starts in Buffalo on June 23rd.

For more on the historic race, see our New York to Paris research guide and digital collection of the 1905 Thomas Flyer catalog and detailed map of the 1908 New York to Paris race route.

Posted in Local History | Tagged ,

The Grosvenor Room welcomes new Arlen and Yellen songs to our sheet music collection!

Twenty-one Harold Arlen and Jack Yellen songs have been added to the Grosvenor Room’s sheet music collection.  The Grosvenor Room now carries about 260 songs (combined) by these Buffalo composers.

Arlen 1

Harold Arlen was born in Buffalo in 1905 and lived here until 1924.  It was here that Harold formed his first band, Hyman Arluck’s Snappy Trio, in 1919. The Snappy Trio expanded into the six-piece Southbound Shufflers and played in clubs and on excursion boats cruising Lake Erie.  He disbanded the Shufflers in 1925 and joined The Yankee Six, which grew to 11 pieces and became The Buffalodians.  They moved to New York City in 1926 where they eventually broke up.

Arlen went on to become one of the major song composers of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  His compositions were overtly influenced by blues and jazz music at the time.  He contributed to 15 Broadway stage shows and 33 feature films between 1930 and 1963.

Among his best-remembered film scores are those for The Wizard of Oz, Cabin in the Sky, and A Star is Born.  He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song nine times, winning for “Over the Rainbow.”  Among his other major hits drawn from films are “That Old Black Magic” and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.”  Many of his most popular songs originated in the five nightclub revues he wrote for the Cotton Club from 1930 to 1934 with Ted Koehler, including “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” and “Stormy Weather.”  His other major collaborators were Ira Gershwin and Johnny Mercer.

The nature of his music made it popular with African American performers such as Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, and Lena Horne.  But he also became a particular favorite of Judy Garland, who frequently sang his songs in her films and concerts, and Barbara Streisand, with whom he recorded an album late in his career.

Arlen 2

Arlen Sheet Music Additions:

Hittin’ the Bottle

I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

I Promise You

Let’s Take the Long Way Home

The Merry Old Land of Oz

One for My Baby


Tell Me with a Love Song

Tess’s Torch Song (I Had a Man)

Yellen 1

Jack Yellen’s family emigrated from Poland to Buffalo in 1897.  They owned a small pawnshop on William Street.  He attended Buffalo’s Old Central High School and then the University of Michigan.  After college, Yellen came back to Buffalo to work as a reporter and sports editor with the Courier Express.  During his time in college and with the Express he collaborated on songs with composer George Cobb.

Around 1916, Yellen moved to New York City to advance his career as a songwriter.  After a brief stint in the war, he met success.  His songs were gaining notoriety in Tin Pan Alley and were starting to be included in The Ziegfeld Follies and in George White’s Scandals.

A pivotal moment in Yellen’s career came when he began his collaboration with Milton Ager in 1920 for the revue What’s in a Name.  This partnership would last throughout the 20’s and yield a wealth of hit songs for radio, theater, and the movies.  His most popular songs include “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Hard Hearted Hannah,” and “Happy Days are Here Again,” which was adopted as the theme song for President Franklin D. Roosevelt by the Democratic Party.

Yellen went on to work with other composers writing songs for both stage and screen.  In 1931, he worked with Buffalo-born composer Harold Arlen on the successful Broadway musical, You Said It.  He continued writing for such stars as Shirley Temple and Sophie Tucker until the 1950’s.

Yellen 2

 Yellen Sheet Music Additions:

According to the Moonlight

Alabama Jubilee

Good Night, My Beautiful

A Gypsy Told Me

I May Be Wrong (But, I Think You’re Wonderful!)

I Was Born Too Late

It’s Home

Listen to That Dixie Band

Oh Baby

Please My Nerves

That Twilight Melody

Welcome Honey to Your Old Plantation Home


Songs from the Arlen and Yellen collections are for reference use only and may be viewed in the Grosvenor Room.

Posted in Genealogy