Encyclopedias on the city
Encyclopedia of Chicago (edited by Janice L. Reiff, Ann Durkin Keating, and James R. Grossman)
Encyclopedia of New York City (edited by Kenneth T. Jackson)
Also available through JSTOR and is searchable
Magazines and Periodicals
There are so, so many options for investigating your subject in nineteenth-century publications. You should have already started the process to obtain your New York Public Library card. Once you have received the card and emailed back a photocopy of your identification, you will be able to access the numerous online databases provided on their website. A handy document of NYPL databases pertinent to your research is divided by topics to make it easier to explore.
Bard’s Library has a very useful database of documents covering the years 1790-1919 — C19: The Nineteenth-Century Index. Another database is American Periodicals, covering the years 1740-1940 and including “special interest and general magazines, literary and professional journals, children’s and women’s magazines and many other historically-significant periodicals.” Log in to the databases by using the barcode on the back of your Bard ID and the password: library.
Books published in the 19th Century
The Internet Archive is an excellent resource for books published in the 19th century.
Types of documents that may interest you (many of which may be found at the link above):
These documents are rich resources in constructing an experience of the city. See this online exhibition by the BGC-NYPL collaboration Visualizing Nineteenth-Century New York.
These documents can vary in the type of information provided. You may come across them in a number of ways, including the Internet Archive. The two links provided below list some of the historical directories available (note the ones that are free).
Benson John Lossing, History of New York City: Embracing an Outline of Events from 1609 to 1830, vol. 1 (New York: Perine Engraving and Publishing Company, 1884).
Benson John Lossing, History of New York City: Embracing an Outline Sketch of Events from 1609 to 1830, and a Full Account of Its Development from 1830 to 1884, vol. 2 (New York: Perine Engraving and Publishing Company, 1884).
William Leete Stone, History of New York City from the Discovery to the Present Day (New York: Virtue & Yorston, 1872).
James Grant Wilson, The Memorial History of the City of New York (New York: New York History Company, 1893).
Alfred Theodore Andreas, History of Chicago: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time—Ending with the Year 1857, vol. 1 (Chicago: A. T. Andreas, Publisher, 1884).
Alfred Theodore Andreas, History of Chicago: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time—1857 until the Fire of 1871, vol. 2 (Chicago: A. T. Andreas Company, Publishers, 1885).
Alfred Theodore Andreas, History of Chicago: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time—From the Fire of 1871 to 1885, vol. 3 (Chicago: A. T. Andreas Company, Publishers, 1886).
Images and Historic Maps
Chicago Collections Consortium (*newly added)
Research in historic newspapers can easily become overwhelming quickly. Do not let this prevent your use of these valuable and extraordinary resources of everyday life. The best strategy for searching through these documents is to find specific keywords that help you to find a specific viewpoint onto life in your city. Note that these kinds of documents are limited to c. 1850 and after.
New York Times (beginning 1851)
Chicago Daily Tribune (beginning 1849)
See also the handy document of NYPL databases
Websites / Digital Projects with Useful Information
FamilySearch has digitized images of the US Censuses for several years. There is some work in pulling the information and tidying it up for your use. If you are interested in doing this, please come to Open Labs for assistance.
You can pull data from Chicago and New York census records using FamilySearch for specific Wards or Enumeration Districts (ED). The images in FamilySearch are divided into these groups. You will want to know what district or ward you are viewing. A link to a reference for Chicago wards and EDs is through ILGenWeb. A map of these districts for different census years can be referenced here at ALookAtCook (1870, 1880, 1900, 1910). Also, this document is super helpful for delineating wards before 1870: Chicago Ward History.
A link to a reference for New York wards is through Brooklyn Geneology.
For Chicago, see the records for Cook County at Census Finder.
See also, the Historical Census Browser provided by the University of Virginia Library.
*** Update! ***
You can download pdfs of the federal census (which includes Cook County wards and NYC wards for white and “freed colored” persons) here: http://www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html
And, for NY State, you can download pdfs that contain more specific data on each ward in NYC here: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/scandocs/nyscensus.htm
***Important note about Chicago addresses***
If you are working on Chicago, you will need to make note of whether you are collecting the current address or a historic address. Here are the links for converting historic addresses from the Chicago History Museum:
In 1909, the city of Chicago changed its street-numbering system for most of the city. In 1911, changes for the Loop area were made. Use the address conversion guide to find a building’s original address.
Street names also changed periodically throughout Chicago’s history. The Museum’s street name changes document is based on a 1948 compilation with updates by Father John McNalis.
Books on Reserve in the Bard Library
Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago: The Beginning of a City, 1673-1848, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago: From Town to City, 1848-1871, vol. 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago: The Rise of a Modern City, 1871-1893, vol. 3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (Oxford University Press, 1998).
F128.3 .B95 1999
Eric Homberger, The Historical Atlas of New York City, Second Edition: A Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City’s History (Henry Holt and Company, 2005).
G1254.N4S1 .H6 1994