Basic Sources for Rochester History

This brief bibliographical essay discusses the basic printed and online sources available for Rochester history.  The call numbers noted are for the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester.  In many cases there are duplicate copies, which circulate, in the Rush Rhees general stacks.  All of these titles are also in the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library, 115 South Avenue.  Their History and Travel Division has circulating copies of many of them.

Rochester is fortunate in having a scholarly, well-written basic history.  Its author was Blake McKelvey, an authority on urban history, who served as Rochester's City Historian for many years.  The titles, dates of publication, and call numbers for the four volumes of this history are:

Rochester, the Water-Power City, 1812-1854.  1945.  (F 130.31 .M15r) 
Rochester, the Flower City, 1855-1890.  1949.  (F 130.33 .M15r) 
Rochester, the Quest for Quality, 1890-1925.  1956.  (F 130.35 .M15r 1956) 
Rochester, the Emerging Metropolis, 1925-1961.  1961.  (F 130.35 .M15ro)

Dr. McKelvey also wrote several one-volume histories of the city, including Rochester on the Genesee: The Growth of a City, second edition 1993 (F 130.3 .M152 1993. Stack copies: F129.R757 M229 1993) and the extensively illustrated A Panoramic History of Rochester and Monroe County, New York 1979 (F 130.3 .M1515).

Another important source on the city's history is the Rochester Historical Society's Publication Fund Series (F 130.1 .R67pf).  Twenty-four volumes were published between 1922 and 1948, and a twenty-fifth volume appeared in 1972.  The earlier volumes generally have a number of articles on diverse topics, while the later volumes usually are devoted to one or two topics.  Volume fifteen is a very useful index to volumes 1-14, and there is a typescript index to volumes 16-24.

Since January 1939 the City Historian has published a periodical, Rochester History (F 130.1 .R69).  Each issue is usually twenty-four pages in length and is devoted to a single topic.  Typical past issues have been on Rochester's weather, the port of Rochester, Rochester's population, the Germans in Rochester, local African-American history, and the local clothing industry.  All issues of Rochester History are on the web, as well as a 600-page index. One can link from the index to the full text.

A wealth of information on Rochester, its history and inhabitants, can be found by studying the city directories (F 130.15 .R67).  The first directory appeared in 1827.  They were issued irregularly until the mid-1840s when they became biennial.  Since the late 1860s they have generally appeared annually. The house directory first appeared in 1891-92 and from then until 1919-20 was a separate volume.  Beginning with the 1922-23 city directory it has been a part of the city directory. Useful in place of the first two directories (1827 and 1834) is Sylvester J. H. Clark, Early Rochesterians Index, 1969 (F 130.15 .C59e) which is a "consolidated computer-printed index to the 1830 census, (and) 1827 and 1834 directories of America's original boom-town." Rochester City Directories, 1827-1940, are now available on the web. (The house directories are at the same website.)

Three illustrated architectural guides to the Rochester area are Paul Malo, Landmarks of Rochester and Monroe County: A Guide to Neighborhoods and Villages, 1974 (NA 730 .N42 M666 1974); Jean France and Betsy Brayer, Of Town and the River, a Rochester Guide, 1977 (F 130.35 .F7); and Patricia Braus, Rochester Routes: Tours of Monroe County's Historic Places, 2001 (F127.2 .B73 2001).  An enjoyable personal account of Rochester by a native and long-time local newspaperman is Henry Clune, The Rochester I Know, 1972 (F 130.3 .C5).

A very useful historical bibliography which includes Rochester is James D. Folts, compiler, The Genesee Region 1790 to the Present, a Guide to Its History, 1978 (F127 .G33G32f), its first Supplement, 1984 (F127 .G33G32f Suppl.), and Second Supplement, 1992, compiled by Karl Kabelac, (F127 .G33G32f Suppl.2).  Over half of its 6917 succinctly annotated entries relate to Rochester and Monroe County. This important reference work is now on the web, both searchable and browsable.

The four indexes listed below were compiled or edited by Karl S. Kabelac. They give access to biographical sketches and images published in local history sources. The indexes can be searched, individually or in groups, online at

  1. Index to Biographical Sketches of Rochesterians and Monroe Countians (indexes nearly 70 titles with about 12,200 entries).
  2. Index to Pictures of Rochesterians and Monroe Countians (indexes 53 titles with about 7500 entries).
  3. Index to Views of Rochester and Monroe County (indexes 60 titles with about 5000 entries).
  4. Rochester Businesses at the End of the Nineteenth Century (indexes 11 titles with about 2000 entries).

Manuscript holdings in area libraries are described and indexed in the three-volume Guide to Historical Resources in Monroe County, New York Repositories, 1982-83 (Rare Books Cominsky Room Z106 .G8mo).  The entries in all these New York Historical Resources Center's county guides can be searched through the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections web site (http:/ Registers for the collections in the Department of Rare Books & Special Collections, University of Rochester Library, are available online at

A large collection of over 26,000 images relating to Rochester (photographs, prints, postcards, and maps) is available on the web.

The Index to Newspapers Published in Rochester, New York, 1818-1897 is a subject index in 83 volumes at the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library. It is also available online. The first 15 volumes cover the period 1818-1850 and index 13 newspapers, the next 68 volumes cover the period 1851-1897 and index 5 newspapers.  The index has been continued for the years 1898-1903 in a card file in the Division.  Each entry gives a short summary of the article and notes the paper in which it appeared and date, page and column.  The newspapers themselves are available on microfilm at the Public Library.  Since the Local History Division's founding in the 1930s, they have clipped local newspapers, and these extensive clipping files, organized by subject, serve in lieu of an index for the more recent period.

The project at has over 28 million pages of New York State newspapers, digitized and searchable. It includes some 19th and 20th century Rochester/Monroe County papers. The New York Historic Newspapers Project is another non-subscription database with some Rochester/Monroe County newspapers.

Also available at the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library is a ready reference file. It is a card file in 45 drawers, 27 of which are the biography section and 23 the general section.  Each entry gives a brief amount of information and the citation where more information can be found.

The internet has made many local history sources readily available.  One project has resulted in the genweb sites; volunteer projects to create a genealogically-oriented website for every county in the United States.  The sites vary greatly in format and types of content; the Monroe County site is rich in helpful information.  It is found at:

There are many other sources available for more specific research on Rochester history.  The websites of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester) and of the Monroe County Library System (select "Local History" for the rich local history and genealogical materials available online) bring up resources already mentioned above and others that are very useful. In addition, the staff at both libraries are glad to discuss resources available on a topic.

Compiled by Karl S. Kabelac

12th rev. 2016

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