Monday, May 6, 2013

Tuesday’s Tip – In a New York State of Mind

“New York gets a bad rap,” stated Laura DeGrazia as she began her session, but in fact New York State has many resources available for genealogical research.

Our last day at NERGC consisted of three consecutive sessions on researching in New York State.  The first session, “But She Died in Upstate NY in the 1850s- How Can I identify her Parents?” was presented by David Quimette, CG.

By applying sound research principles, David was successful in identifying his relative’s maiden name, even though the area was considered “frontier” and had few vital, church, or government records.

He had to work collateral lines, researching siblings and their descendants, keeping track of naming patterns, tracking neighbors (sometimes a man would marry the girl “next door,”), transcribing records fully, and reading and rereading those documents searching for clues he may have missed.  This is especially difficult when the married woman dies young, her husband remarries, and they are poor.

It helps to study the local history, customs, naming patterns and work with the local historical society for any information they may have.  Sometimes you have to research neighboring localities as boundary lines changed and people moved back and forth. This particular family David was searching went back and forth from New York to Vermont, to Canada. Because of this he had to take into account name variations (as well as dit names) that might have been used in each locality. And don’t overlook the obvious – cemeteries.  

The second session, “Spanning the Great New York Abyss: Connecting Generations When No Vital Records Exist,” was presented by Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CG. 

Laura reminded the audience that New York State vital records began in June 1880 for deaths, and in 1881 for marriages and births, although she admitted early compliance was poor.  With that in mind, she suggested building a bridge to your ancestor by using alternative sources and indirect evidence.  A timeline of indirect evidence information might prove helpful.
Some suggestions:
  • NYS Census.  These were taken from 1855 to 1925.  A good way to track people between the Federal Census years. 
  • Estate, wills, administration, probate.  If filed in 1830 or later, check petition for probate or petition of letters. has many online. 
  • Church Records. Baptism and marriage show parent names. An article I found on this might be helpful.
  • Cemetery office.  They might have a maiden name in their records.
  • Newspapers.  The Fulton History website was mentioned as an important source. This site began with small town newspapers from Upstate New York, but has since included newspapers from New York City and Fairfield County, Connecticut.
  • City directories. Sometimes gives previous address; moved, widow of information.
  • Bible Records; check PERSI for “[name] bible;” the DAR has an ongoing project at their library in Washington. 
  • Immigrant Savings Bank.
  • Land records. Some spell out relationships.

For Upstate New York records, contact the New York State Library in Albany; for New York City records, the Municipal Archives on Chambers Street in Manhattan.

Laura recommended a Family History Library video “Inferential Genealogy” presented by Tom Jones.  Not always does Less equal More, consequently the new Family History web page does not make finding this video easy.  Here is what you need to do:

On the front page, in the upper right corner click on “Get Help.”
At bottom left click on “Help Center.”
Far right, “Learning Center.”
Click on “Take a Course.”
In the box type in “Inferential Genealogy.”   Good luck!!

The third session was “Weaving Together New York’s Metro Area,” presented by Linda McMeniman, PhD and Jill E. Martin, JD.

Being an “Upstate” person I really appreciated the New York City history introduction provided in this session. I learned that 1898 was the watershed year for the city’s boundary changes. A researcher needs to keep that date in mind when searching for records. 

The three neighboring suburban counties of Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk are important as family members moved back and forth.

By 1851 burials were banned in Manhattan. Large city cemeteries are Greenwood and Evergreen.  During Q&A they confirmed that the stamp “City Cemetery” on Katherine Nunn’s death certificate probably meant Hart Island.  Katherine died at the Manhattan State Hospital in May 1917, and was the mother of the Nunn children (including my grandfather) that were sent to St. Joseph’s Home in Peekskill in June 1900.

Many NYC vital records for early 1900s are on the website.

 The Brooklyn Public Library is in the process of digitizing the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, with about half the project completed at this time. 

These three sessions gave me lots of helpful insights into tracing my own New York State ancestors. 

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