Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1940 Census

Census records aren’t just for family history. They help us learn about historical persons, communities, and the social and economic condition of our country.  Grosvenor Room staff decided to see what we could find out about Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1940 census.  The facts that we found from the census are noted through the listing of what census record column in which we found the information.

1940 Census

1940 Census

1940 Census ed 2

Seen above is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1940 census record. Reverend King’s household is on line numbers 59-66.  At the time, King was eleven years old and his family resided at 501 Auburn Avenue in Atlanta (cols. 1-2), which was also King’s birthplace.  The home still stands, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Auburn Avenue is part of the Sweet Auburn Historic District.  Sweet Auburn was the hub of Atlanta’s African American religion, business, entertainment, and prosperity before the Civil Rights Era.  Further inspecting the record shows how King’ family fit in with their community.  His father, Martin L. King, Sr., was a pastor and his mother, Alberta Williams King, was a church music director and pianist (cols. 28-29).  Column 14 shows that they both completed four years of college, which was uncommon for African Americans of this time period.  The census also records that the family owned their house (col. 4) and that Martin Luther King, Sr., was paid $2500 a year in wages (col. 32), which is more than triple or quadruple the amount of most of his neighbors.  $2500 in today’s wages computes to about $43,000 a year.

Aside from his parents, King also lived with his older sister Willie Christine, his younger brother Alfred, his aunt Ida, his grandmother Jennie, and a lodger named Carrie Rutland, a servant who may have also worked for the family (col. 7).  About a year after this census was taken, Jennie died.  Twelve-year-old Martin was so bereaved and guilt-ridden, because he was very close to her and went to an event without permission just before she died, that he attempted suicide by jumping out of the home’s second story window.  Many people don’t know about Reverend King’s struggled with mental illness throughout his life, and if we thought he was a strong man before knowing that personal fact, he certainly seems even stronger after learning about it.

For more information about the incredible life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr., see the King Center website.

To learn how to access census records through the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, consult our census guide.

Posted in Genealogy

From Stage to Screen

The 1930s were the start of the “golden age” of Hollywood films.  Many film actors of this era began their careers in theatre, and some continued to perform on Broadway and on stages across the country, even as “moving pictures” were becoming more popular.  At the same time, successful plays were frequently being turned into films.

Here are some notable pieces of movie history found in our Buffalo Theater Program Collection…


Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, 1940. Columbia Pictures (Source) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Rosalind Russell, star of His Girl Friday (1940) and a leading lady of many films of the 1930s through the 1960s, actually lived in Buffalo briefly at the start of her career. She was a member of the local Teck Theatre Players during the 1933-1934 season, and played starring roles in many productions.


“Holiday” performed by the Teck Players, Teck Theatre, Buffalo, NY. June 26, 1933.

Russell BEN Sept18_1944p13

Buffalo Evening News September 18, 1944, p. 13


The Women, a 1939 movie comedy starring  Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and Paulette Goddard, was originally a popular play.

TheWomen Movie

The Women, 1939. MGM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1937, Buffalo theatergoers could catch the stage production of The Women at the Erlanger Theatre.

Women_Erlanger 1937


Not surprisingly, one of the biggest film stars of all time can also be found in theater programs.  One of Katharine Hepburn’s biggest hits was The Philadelphia Story, a 1940 romantic comedy.


MGM (source) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The movie was based on a screenplay by Phillip Barry, who wrote the play specifically for Katharine Hepburn.  Hepburn purchased the motion picture rights, and the film opened in December 1940.  The play had been staged in Buffalo just two months prior, starring Hepburn and Joseph Cotten.

Philadelphia cast list

Another Philip Barry play, Without Love, was made into a 1945 romantic comedy film starring Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and another local connection–Lucille Ball.  A few years earlier, Buffalo audiences saw Hepburn in the 1942 stage production at the Erlanger Theatre.



The Buffalo Theatre Program Collection also includes a handful of programs from films that played at our early “movie palaces.”  Here are two that feature, once again, famous Hollywood stars…


Posted in Local History | Tagged ,

New Collection: Erie County Poorhouse Records

Alms house image 1899

Ins and Outs of Buffalo. Buffalo, NY: A.B. Floyd, 1899.

The Erie County Poorhouse of Buffalo, NY and succeeding institutions known as the Erie County Alms House, Erie County Hospital, and Erie County Home & Infirmary (Alden, NY), operated as a social safety net for the region’s poor and infirm.  The Grosvenor Room recently acquired historic ledgers that document the people that received care at these institutions from 1861 to 1952.  Nine volumes show a record of individuals during intake, or at the time of death, providing information that can be very useful for genealogists and local history researchers.  This chart provides an overview of the content:

chart image

Here’s what you need to know when searching for an ancestor or other individual that may have been in the Poorhouse/Alms House: The ledger information was recorded in chronological order (by the date admitted or date of death).  There is a name index for [Vol.1] only.  Despite the lack of name indexes (although we plan to create one) finding a person by browsing is not too difficult, especially if you know a year or brief time period.   The handwriting in the ledgers is fairly crisp and legible.   Most of the people listed in volumes 2 through 6 are adults; children who temporarily accompanied a parent or relative will also be listed by name.  Infants born in the Poorhouse are noted with the date of birth and name of mother.

The children listed in [Vol.1] Children Bound out… could have temporarily or permanently lived with other families in a type of indentured arrangement like an apprenticeship.  Very young children could be bound out as a method of adoption.

The relevant family history information that you may discover varies in each ledger.  For example, [Vol. 5] Register of State Paupers…December 1873 – September 24, 1889 is quite detailed.  It includes name, date of admission, sex, age, birthplace, cause of pauperism, location committed from, committing officer, complaining officer, discharge date, bound out date, provided for—by adoption or otherwise, absconded, transferred, removed from the state, death, and remarks on where the person was sent.

vol 5

[Vol. 5] Register of State Paupers in the Erie County State Alms House at Buffalo, NY, December 1873 – September 24, 1889

Not only can you view the records in person at the Central library, but you can also browse all 9 ledgers online in our Digital Collections.   Related resources and historical background on the institutions are listed in our Erie County Poorhouse research guide.

Fun facts: In 1851 the Poorhouse was relocated from Black Rock to the rural area known as the “Buffalo Plains” on the outskirts of Buffalo along Main Street.  This location later became the South Campus of the University at Buffalo.  Hayes Hall, now home to the UB School of Architecture and Planning, was originally constructed for the Alms House in the 1870s.

Many thanks to local researchers Roseanne Higgins, Ph.D. and Jennifer Liber Raines for their assistance with this collection.




Posted in Genealogy, Local History | Tagged ,

The Central Library After Hours: The Grosvenor Room Genealogy Lock-In

Night Library
On October 6th, an evening of fellowship and discovery was hosted by the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library (BECPL) and the Western New York Genealogical Society (WNYGS).  A “Genealogy Lock-In” was organized in support of the Western New York Genealogy Conference: Finding Home & Forging the Future. The all-day WNYGS conference featured award-winning genealogists such as D. Joshua Taylor, a host of PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow and president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, and Blaine Bettinger, author of  The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy and Genetic Genealogy in Practice.  The conference was held at the Embassy Suites in Downtown Buffalo.


The Lock-In offered genealogists from Wisconsin, Kansas, California, and other faraway places an opportunity for after-hours research in the Grosvenor Room.  The Grosvenor Room is the Library’s Special Collections Department and repository of its genealogy, local history, maps, music scores, and rare book materials.

Lecture photo

The night began with an overview of the Library’s genealogy collection, presented by Genealogy Librarian, Rhonda Konig.  “Must See” resources such as WNY church records, vital records, the WNYGS library (housed in the Grosvenor Room), and Erie County Poorhouse records were featured.  (Keep watching the Library’s Digital Collections webpage for the Poorhouse records; they are coming soon and they are fascinating.)

Lock in small group

Personalized assistance was provided by BECPL genealogy specialists and WNYGS volunteers throughout the night.  Volunteers included WNYGS President and Augspurger Award winner, Jennifer Liber Raines; WNYGS board member and professional genealogist, Nancy Koester; and Niagara Falls Historian, Elaine Timm.

Participants immersed themselves in the Library’s resources, completed checklists, and shared stories of families or facts found.  Most stayed until the event ended, 10:00 p.m.


By all accounts, the Lock-In was a success.  Our visitors were happy to have library access that worked with their tight travel schedules, and staff and volunteers enjoyed sharing their expertise and showcasing Western New York.

Posted in Genealogy

The Play’s the Thing…in Buffalo

Sari_Star1914 (2)

“Sari” at the Star Theatre. Buffalo, NY, 1914. [Playbill]

Buffalo theater-buffs had plenty of entertainment options during our illustrious history, and the Grosvenor Room has the playbills and programs to prove it!  Vaudeville, dramatic theater, and musical comedy were all popular, and hundreds of venues have come and gone from Buffalo’s theater scene.  Major stars of the stage graced our city, and some were even from Buffalo.  We won’t go too much into our very extensive theater history, but you can read a fascinating timeline on this Buffalo History website.

Thanks to donations to the library from those theater-goers, largely during the 1940s and 50s, the Grosvenor Room has thousands of programs and playbills from over 90 theatrical venues in Buffalo and Erie County.  The earliest date from the 1850s and 1860s, but most of the programs are from 1900 to 1950.  We continue to add recent productions from local theaters, as well as donations of historic programs.

The programs are a treasure trove of printed design trends; covers reflect the era’s style, from ornate illustrations to minimal typography.  Here are some of our favorite finds from the collection:


The quintessential theatre-going couple adorn “Dishonored Lady” at Shubert-Teck Theatre, 1930.


Julius Caesar at Star Theatre, 1903. Note the ticket stub pasted inside, along with the initials of the people who attended with the owner of this program.


Cat and the Canary at Teck Theatre, 1926. Delightfully spooky.

Shubert Teck blue cover_Oct1928

A mythological dancing faun at the Shubert-Teck, 1928.


A charming illustration on “The Cat on the Oregon Trail” at Studio Theatre, 1961.


Playbills printed on cloth, likely for special events. Left: My Brother’s Sister at Academy of Music, 1889. Right: The Dutch Champion at Lafayette Theatre, 1911.

And last, but not least: One local theatre-goer was so overcome with emotion after seeing Sarah Bernhardt that she wrote on the program below “She’s wonderful—But she tears one to pieces. I wasn’t fit to be seen for a week after.”  According to the program, the “World’s Greatest Artiste” performed the “Death of Cleopatra” and other tragic scenes.


Sarah Bernhardt at Star Theatre, 1916.

For more on our programs and Buffalo theater history, including a list of all the theaters in our collection, see our updated research guide.

Posted in Local History | Tagged ,

Game of Thrones Surnames



Starks and Martells

Knee deep into this season of Game of Thrones, some of our Grosvenor Room staff got to wondering about possible real life Starks, Targaryens, Lannisters, and the many other family names in the fantasy series.  Using the library’s surname dictionaries, this is what we found.

Baelish – A similar surname, Bayliss, means “officer of a court or justice.” This is certainly ironic since most GOT viewers are hoping that Lord Baelish faces justice this season for his numerous conniving misdeeds. (Go Stark girls!)

Clegane – Our limited search did not produce the name Clegane, but we did find Clegg which was the name of a hill.  That certainly fits the Cleganes.  Ser Gregor Clegane is known as “The Mountain,” and towers over his also enormous brother “The Hound.”

Lannister – A close match was, Leinster, found only in the Internet Surname Database.  The site states that the meaning comes from the French “Le Maistre” which means the Master.  Appropriate for anyone aiming for, or to keep, the Iron Throne.

Martell – This is a fairly common surname with the meaning “forceful person.” Nothing is better-suited to Ellaria Sand, Oberyn Martell’s paramour, except perhaps ‘vengeful.’ Another meaning is “hammer,” which reminds us of the state of Oberyn’s face (or lack thereof) after his battle with Ser Gregor Clegane.

Stark – Stark is described as “firm, unyielding, determined” by the Dictionary of American Family Names.  Add ‘just’ to that list and it would be the perfect representation of the Stark family.

Tarth – A similar name, Tartre, means “height.”  Suitable for the Lady Knight, Brienne of Tarth, who is close in height to the Hound.  (Also, who do you think, Jaime or Tormund?)

Tyrell – The name Tyrrell was found to mean “stubborn person…an animal which pulls the reins…” This makes us think of tenacious Lady Olenna Tyrell, who was the last Tyrell standing, and one of the puppet-masters of King Joffrey’s assassination. (R.I.P. Olenna, we’re glad you had the last word.)

We were disappointed that we found no names close to Targaryen in our brief search, but, if there were one, it would probably be ‘dragon’ don’t you think?  By the way, does anyone else want Drogon on the Iron Throne at the end of it all?  (What can we say, we’re animal lovers here.)

If any of you are interested in researching the meaning of surnames (fact or fictional), come visit us in the Grosvenor Room where we have numerous surname dictionaries.

geros ilas!, Game of Thrones fans.  ȳdra daor ivestragī se bantis dārys jiōragon ao.

 [English to Valyrian Translator –]




Bardsley, Charles Wareing.  A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames.  London: Oxford University Press, 1901.

Hanks, Patrick, Ed. Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Internet Surname Database

Posted in Genealogy

Buffalo Kit Homes

You may have heard of Sears houses, the “kit homes” that prospective owners could select from a catalog and build themselves.  But did you know that Western New York was home to another company that designed and sold beautiful house plans and kits?  The Ray H. Bennett Lumber Company, established in North Tonawanda in 1902, manufactured a line of Bennett Homes — “Better-Built & Ready-Cut.”  Their catalogs featured cottages, bungalows, larger 3- and 4-bedroom Colonial and American Foursquare houses, and two-family homes.  The styles will look strikingly familiar to Buffalonians, especially those with homes built in the 1920s and 30s.

A Bennett Homes catalog from 1920 shows not only house plans, but also the interior options, such as styles of doors and bookcases.

Bennett Homes1920 coverBennettHomes1920 ErieBennettHomes1920 Atherton HarrietBennett Homes1920 house 3Bennett Homes1920 house 1Bennett Homes1920 doors and stairwell

Think your house could be a Bennett Home?  The Grosvenor Room has three Bennett Homes catalogs: 1920 (no.18), 1925 (no.35), and an undated catalog from circa 1940, each featuring over 50 house styles.

For more plan books, check out this helpful list: Architecture and Design Books: Listing by Architectural Style.


Posted in Local History | Tagged