Peeling Back the Layers: How to Find the History of Your Brooklyn Home or Block

April 8, 2024

Everywhere you look, Brooklyn is steeped in history, so it’s only natural to wonder about what those stoops, exposed brick walls and endless brownstones have seen over the years.

Whether you recently purchased or rented your Brooklyn home or you’re a longtime dweller, the tips in this post will help you explore archives, tap into digital resources and connect with your community’s past.

Join us in this journey of discovery and reveal the fascinating narratives hidden within the walls of your Brooklyn home.

Start with an Internet search

Persons hand on laptop keyboard with Google home screen and coffee cup and saucer beside it

Photo by Firmbee

A somewhat obvious first step, but one worth noting, is to plug your address into your favorite search engine and see if you get any results. Use quotes around the address, street or neighborhood name depending on exactly what you’re searching for.

Add relevant keywords like “history” or “neighborhood history” to your search. You might even add “Reddit” to your search in case anyone on Reddit has already researched and posted about your neighborhood, building or home.

Find out whether you live in a historic district

Skip this one if you already know whether you live in a historic district. If not, refer to this handy NYC Landmark Preservation Committee map.

If you live in a historic district, check the LPC archives

Luckily the Landmark Preservation Committee has archives with tons of historic information, which you can access easily by providing a few details on their Designation Reports page.

Ask around in person

Your building super, Brooklyn real estate agent, neighbors and local shop owners will surely have some stories about your neighborhood, block or building because let’s face it, us Brooklynites love to dish and talk about the hood.

Refer to the NYPL and LPC guides

New York Public Library published an extensive guide on how to research the ownership, construction, design and residents of a building, as well as its neighborhood history. You can access the guide on the NYPL website. The LPC also created a similar detailed guide here.

Search NYC newspapers

Newspapers like The New York Times and Brooklyn Daily Eagle have archives full of neighborhood and property history. Try searching for yours. With their extensive archives, Brooklyn Newsstand and NYS Historic Newspapers can also be of great help.

Explore various digital archives

Interior reading room at New York Public Library

Photo by Clay Banks

NYC Department of Records & Information Services has a municipal archive dating back from 1645 to the present. And NYPL has a cool OldNYC map where you can easily find historical photos in a given area of the city. You also might try seeing how far back Google Street View goes on your building or checking this interesting 1940s map of NYC.

Visit The Museum of the City of New York digital archive featuring over 250,000 objects from their collection, the NY Historical Society’s digital archive and their library catalog, or Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History.

Search real estate records

Start with modern sites like Zillow, Trulia, PropertyShark or StreetEasy to see what you can find about your property or its previous owners. Take a deeper dive on websites like NYC ACRIS property records, NYC Department of Buildings, NYC 311, Columbia University Libraries Digital Collections or NYU Libraries archival collections.

Consult an expert

Once you feel you’ve exhausted your research options—or simply don’t have the time to dedicate to the task—you might reach out to NYC history experts like the Brownstone Detectives, whom we’ve had the pleasure of hiring to create an in-depth hardbound history book about specific properties, or the NY Genealogical and Biographical Society.

Before paying for a service, it’s always wise to try your own research first or even to see if your local librarian or researcher at a historical society can be of help.

From internet searches and historic district archives to NYC newspapers and detailed guides from institutions like the NYPL and LPC, there are seemingly endless avenues to help you travel into the past.

If on your journey through history, you fall in love with a new Brooklyn neighborhood, our knowledgeable Brooklyn-based real estate agents can help you sell your current home or help find you a new home to buy or rent. Contact us today to see how.

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