Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Finding Photographs of Pelham in the Online "American Memory Collection" of the Library of Congress

The online "American Memory Collection" of the Library of Congress is a spectacular Web-based resource filled with maps, photographs, journals, publications, diaries, transcripts and many other sorts of materials that relate to American history. Much of the material in the collection concerns issues of local interest and quite a bit of material -- including many old photographs -- relates to Pelham and surrounding areas. One such example is the photograph below that shows nationally-renowned architect Electus D. Litchfield standing in the backyard of a home in Pelham Manor that he designed in 1927. The home happens to be that of the author of this blog. Many other photographs in the collection show the interiors and exteriors of homes throughout Pelham. The collection is well worth exploring if you are interested in the history of the area.

The Library of Congress American Memory Collection is available from the Library of Congress home page located at http://www.loc.gov/ or by going directly to the following Web address: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html.

Mining the collection to find all the Pelham-related material in it admittedly is not an easy task. The most important consideration is that you must be creative and thoughtful in structuring search queries that will locate material relating to Pelham even if the bibliographic references associated with the material do not mention the term "Pelham". Simply searching for "Pelham" will find a lot of material, only some of which actually relates to Pelham, NY. Such a search, however, will miss much of the relevant material in the collection such as material relating to the Bartow-Pell Mansion and its associated carriage house. Consequently, as with all such research, you must give careful thought to your search queries and must try many different queries each designed to locate Pelham related material. For example, try searches for "Travers Island", "Hunter Island" (rather than Hunter's Island), etc. Each such search will turn up a wealth of additional material related to Pelham that you simply will not find in the collection by searching for the term "Pelham".

On the American Memory home page located at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html you will see a search dialogue box in the upper right corner of the page beneath the words "Search all collections" with a button labeled "Search" next to it. As always, the first step is to click on the "Help" button to the left (and then on "Search Help" and "How to Format Search Terms") to learn how to structure queries. You will learn some surprising things. For example, unlike many Web sites, the American Memory Collection does not recognize quotation marks around a multi-word phrase. Thus, to find material related to Travers Island, you should type those words into the search dialogue box rather than typing those words within quotation marks in the search dialogue box. It is, of course, a "best practice" to review the search help page for any Web site before you structure your first search query to find what you are looking for.

Let's stay with our example. Go to the American Memory home page located at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html and type in the search box the words Travers Island. Click on the button labeled "Search". You shortly should see the first of four search results pages listing 73 items that match your search query. Although not all 73 items actually relate to Travers Island in Pelham Manor, NY, you will see that the majority of them do. Many of the items are photographs of Travers Island taken during the time that it was in use during World War II as the Norwegian Gunnery School. See Bell, Blake A., Travers Island Goes to War, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 38, Sept. 24, 2004, p. 10, col. 2.

Let's give the matter a little thought. Is it possible that material in the collection may reference "Traver's Island" (note the apostrophe) rather than "Travers Island" without an apostrophe? Perhaps. A search for Traver's Island, however, seems to turn up the same 73 items suggesting that the system ignores the apostrophe in the search query. A quick check of the search help page confirms that the system does not recognize certain characters such as apostrophes in search queries.

Are there other ways to find material relating to Travers Island in Pelham Manor? Well, we know that the New York Athlectic Club has a clubhouse on the island and has used the island since 1889. Let's try searches for New York Athletic Club, NYAC and N.Y.A.C. Search results for New York Athletic Club look promising. NYAC, however, returns no results and N.Y.A.C. returns more than 5,000 results virtually all of which are irrelevant. A review of the search results for the phrase New York Athletic Club reveals that some -- though not all -- relate to the Club's facilities and activities in New York City. Many of the results are irrelevant although a few relate to the Travers Island facility.

A search for the word Pelham turns up 463 search results. The majority do not relate to Pelham, NY but a very substantial number of the results do relate to Pelham, NY. What other searches might turn up relevant results? Pelhamville? Pelhamwood? Prospect Hill? Huguenot Heights? The collections are so large that it is well worth the time of a serious student of local history to search the collections carefully.

For those who would like to see a partial list -- by no means a complete list -- of the many photographs in the Library of Congress American Memory Collection that relate to Pelham and surrounding areas, use your browser (e.g., Internet Explorer) to go to the following address on the Historic Pelham Web site: https://web.archive.org/web/20111005224735/http://historicpelham.com/AmericanMemories.htm. At that location you will see a list of more than 100 images relating to the history of Pelham from the collection grouped into categories including 20 Beech Tree Lane, Coaching to Pelham Sheet Music, Pelham Memorial High School, Bartow-Pell Mansion, Hunter Island Mansion, Marshall House (Hawkswood), 1401 Park Lane, 205 Townsend Avenue, Mary Elizabeth Shop, 105 Wolfs Lane, Residence of Mrs. R. C. Black, 4611 Post Road, Crosby Residence on Stellar Place and Pelham Bay Park.

There is plenty more available in the collection. Happy hunting!


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