Skip to content
CityLab
Culture

It's Easier Than Ever to Discover Your Home's History

A combination of national and local resources can help you learn what happened in your house generations ago.
relates to It's Easier Than Ever to Discover Your Home's History
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

Here’s what I already knew: I live in the garden level of a brownstone building in Sunset Park, about halfway between Park Slope and Coney Island in Brooklyn. We have built-ins and a tin ceiling and thick layers of white paint on the doorframes. We’re uphill from the factory spaces-turned-artisanal-havens at Industry City, and downhill from the bustling Chinatown on 8th and 9th Avenues. I’m up the block from a barber shop and across the street from a tattoo parlor where an ice cream truck parks every night in the summer, its jingle still ringing. I use subtle landmarks to direct people to my apartment: It’s the first lamppost on the left; there’s a Japanese maple tree out front—it’s small, and hasn’t been there long.

But that’s just what the street is like today. It doesn’t illuminate anything about how my neighborhood has changed over time. (Which it has, dramatically. Once predominantly Scandinavian, it was then home to Irish and Italian immigrants, then Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. Today, it’s largely Latino and Asian. The number of non-Hispanic whites increased almost 8 percent between the 2000 and 2010 census, but it's still a minority demographic in the area.)