The line between research and wasting time is so incredibly fine, and I walk it all the time. This is equally true for both writing and genealogy, which do tend to overlap for me.
I fell down another rabbit hole. The New York Public Library, which has an amazing digital collection to begin with, has a new (at least to me) feature called Old NYC. Old NYC is a map, with lots of red dots. Each red dot represents historical (generally copyright-free) photos taken at that location.
You can get lost in that map.
First I used it to find locations in my novel, Modern Girls. One of my two main characters, Dottie, goes to the Yiddish theater on the Lower East Side (which, in those days, included what is now referred to as East Village):
I looked up a ton of sites in the book, and had so much fun seeing them as I had imagined them.
Then I began using it for genealogy. I have lots of addresses for my ancestors, from census reports, draft cards, naturalization papers. While Old NYC doesn’t have a search function, it’s simple to go to Google Maps to determine the cross streets for different addresses.
According to the 1910 census, my great-grandfather lived at 211 East 10th Street, with his wife, six children, one grandchild (my great uncle), and two boarders. While this photo was taken at 10th Street in 1930, it still gives a feel for the neighborhood, especially as my great-grandfather always lived between East 10th and East 15th street (with much time at East 13 Street) until he died in 1935. He worked at a newspaper stand on 12th Street, so odds are quite good that he walked along 10th Street (off of 2nd Avenue) when it looked like this.
In 1940 (per the census), my great-grandparents, Max and Ida, and Ida’s mom, Fanny, lived at 588 Concord Avenue in the Bronx. This picture is of 564 Concord Avenue, taken in 1938, so it’s a pretty good idea of what the neighborhood looked like when they lived there.
I’ve spent too many hours going over this site, looking for both family history and writing. I even found a picture of the hospital in which I was born, which is now defunct (although this is a picture of the hospital when it was Fifth Avenue Hospital, about two years before it merged with Flower Hospital to become Flower and Fifth; and I would like to point out that I was born DECADES after this photo was taken).
I better get working on that next novel, so you can all find out. (Guesses welcome, though, in the meantime!)