Gertrude Lott Lefferts was born in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, then a separate city in New York, to a prominent family of Dutch descent. Her father died when she was five years old and she was raised by her mother and grandmother, two strong and intelligent women. She described her grandmother Femmetie Hegeman Lefferts as "a woman of great intelligence and a constant reader," who was fluent in both Dutch and English. She inherited their love of history and of books, and attended Erasmus Hall High School. In 1846, she married Judge John Vanderbilt, with whom she had one son. Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt became committed to various charitable causes -- for example, she worked 34 years for the Industrial School and Home for Destitute Children of Brooklyn -- and an avid chronicler of the history of her neighborhood and city. Her most famous book, The Social History of Flatbush, published in 1881, became a standard text. She's now considered a predecessor of the pioneering women historians of the 20th century.