New York City Tenement Life

If you had to name the one location in America where many of our emigrant ancestors may have lived for years, it would have to be New York City.  It being a very large city, there were certain neighborhoods where different ethnic groups congregated. Those early immigrants usually had to live in small apartments on crowded streets with all types of nearby businesses and other apartments filled with residents. The term ‘tenement’ was applied to such residences. To better understand the life some of our ancestors endured, especially those who lived in such neighborhood, there is a great online web site titled “Tenement Museum” which offers such insight to life around the turn of the 20th century.

The site focuses on the Orchard Street on the Lower East Side in New York City and covers from 1863 to 1935 and beyond, quiet a span of time and people. Starting with the photographs of street scenes there are some 928 images to depict just Orchard. There are thumbnail (smaller) images to view.  By clicking on one it is enlarged for easier viewing. Click on the image again to make it even larger.  Go to the ‘full record’ and / or ‘more details’ which provide an approximate date and description of who and what was happening in the photo. There are a dozen thumbnails showing at a time and you can move onto the next set listed at the bottom.  The street scenes are not just of Orchard Street, but other nearby locations such as Suffolk Street, Henry Street, East 66th Street, Grand Street and Bowery. Go to the ‘browse’ section and there is a long list of the many streets listed that you can then click on to view the images for that location.

Many of the images have been identified with the names of individuals pictured. Again in the browse section is a section for ‘people’ with over a hundred names. With the search box you can put in a person’s name, a street name or even a date and see that comes up.  There can be some fascinating finds.  Just putting in a date of 1915, a portrait of the Elias family of Orchard Street was shown.  In 1900 was a portrait of Abraham Danzig and Cherry Danzig as children who lived on Orchard Street (pictured above).

Overall, there are over 7,000 images saved on the site and are easy to view.  Besides the images, in their tenement collection are artifacts, documents and oral histories. Also the actual Orchard St., s businesses and residences are also be preserved as much as possible.

If you had ancestors who lived in this area, it is a good starting point to learn more about their neighborhood. If your ancestors were in another city and its tenements, this still offers some great knowledge of the lifestyle.

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