Help the New York Public Library With a Massive Archival Project

New York Public Library
New York Public Library / New York Public Library

One way to uncover valuable information about people after they’re gone is to search through their boring old paperwork. The New York Public Library knows this, has a lot of old paperwork, and is asking for the public’s help in cataloging it.

The stories they’re looking to tell are those of immigrants in 19th and early 20th century New York. During that time, Emigrant Bank (founded by members of the Irish Emigrant society) was one of the largest in the nation, and made sizeable investments that greatly aided the growth of the city. To give you an idea of their reach, Emigrant Bank provided loans for things like the construction of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a public works project that eventually became Central Park. Twenty years ago, the bank donated their large collection of archival records to the NYPL, who microfilmed them.

With “Emigrant City,” the NYPL aims to digitize those real estate records and pull data from the roughly 6,400 handwritten mortgage and bond ledgers. When complete, the information will be searchable and organized, and thus more useful to genealogists and historians who are interested in the lives of immigrant families from a century ago.

In achieving such a large-scale goal, the library needs help. They’re asking volunteers to extract information from the records via high resolution images. The tasks are divided into three categories: marking, transcribing and verifying, which can be done independently of one another if, you know, marking happens to be your thing. That task involves identifying fields on a page and drawing boxes around them, while transcribing is trying to decipher the numbers and words in the boxes, and verifying is checking those transcriptions for accuracy. The library’s software runs an algorithm that looks for agreement among transcriptions. When contrast arises, verification users vote on which transcription looks most accurate.

The project is a cool way to flex those archival nerd muscles and contribute to a collection that will serve to add to the complex history of one of the most storied cities in the world.