New York City’s Department of Records recently launched an online collection of over 870,000 photos, maps, and motion picture and audio recordings from the last century. Many of the pictures in the city’s Municipal Archives Online Gallery are tax appraisal photos of buildings taken from 1983 to 1988. Browsing the website is free.
The photo below on the left is from the 1980s and shows the Brooklyn house where my father-in-law was born in 1927. The picture on the right is the current Google Street View of the house. You can buy an 8″x10″ print or a high-res digital file of a 1980s picture from the city for $45.
The Municipal Archives Online Gallery is an ongoing project with more photos being added on a regular basis. And while I’m happy to have photos of buildings from the 1980s, I hope the city someday expands the gallery to include their tax photos taken between 1939 and 1941 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). You can order prints of those older photos, too, but it’s sight unseen, you don’t get to preview your purchase. I ordered a print of my father-in-law’s house from the 1939-1941 collection a few years ago, but the city couldn’t locate the address. They refunded the charge to my credit card, so it didn’t cost me anything. Still, it was disappointing to wait for something that a preview search would immediately show didn’t exist.
The online gallery is a great resource for anyone tracing their family history in New York. But even if you have no ties to the city, you’re bound to enjoy browsing through such an accessible and wide variety of snapshots that document life during the 20th century in one of the world’s great cities.
New York City does an excellent job making high-quality photos of old homes available to the public, but they’re not the only one sharing their photo archives. Seattle, Salt Lake County and Portland, Maine also make their old tax appraisal photos available to the public.