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Kudos to the New Yorkers

It is called the Award of Merit.

The National Genealogical Society awards it “to an individual or nonprofit genealogical or historical organization in recognition of exceptional contributions to the field of genealogy over a period of five or more years that have significantly aided research or increased interest in genealogy.”1

NGS-NYIn the past it has gone to, just as a few examples, the Missouri State Archives, to the Louisiana Creole Research Association, to Marvin Wilhite for volunteer service at the Marshall, Mo., Public Library’s Genealogy Room, to Carolyn Marguerite Hutchinson Brown for 25 years of commitment to genealogical education, publishing and volunteerism.

All of these are worthy recipients, well-deserving the honor.

But at no time has NGS ever tapped a more deserving set of volunteers than it did this year, in 2014, with the award presented at the NGS banquet in Richmond.

The honorees for this year’s Award of Merit are Don Eckerle of the German Genealogy Group (GGG); John Martino of the Italian Genealogy Group (IGG); and Bob Boeckle of GGG. The home of both groups is Long Island, New York.

Allow The Legal Genealogist, please, to acquaint you with their work.

A decade ago, Don and John realized that a key to researching immigrant ancestors was the naturalization records held by the counties. So they got in touch with the clerk of one of the very oldest American counties — Suffolk County, New York — and got permission to have volunteers copy and index the records of naturalizations there.

Next came the Suffolk County Veterans records (more than 45,000 in number). Then neighboring Nassau County allowed its naturalization and veterans records to be indexed. Those two Long Island Counties then agreed to allow their marriage records to be digitally indexed.

The success of these initial projects led these two groups into the development of databases for research the likes of which stagger the imagination. Because the next project had John and Don joining with Bob Boeckle to tackle one of the most valuable sets of records in America: the New York City vital records.

Before GGG and IGG took this on, anyone with New York City ancestors could access vital records indexes only on microfilm and only in a few locations in New York. Finding a birth or marriage or death meant an onsite visit and the hope of finding that needle in the haystack.

No longer. The army of volunteers organized by this trio has created a massive searchable database of names, dates, certificate numbers, by county — and it’s all readily accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world, for free, at the GGG and IGG websites. (The GGG website is here; the IGG website is here. Look at the Database Searches list in the menu on the left.)

So… for folks like me who don’t have New York City ancestors, what’s so special about these volunteer?

Among other reasons, because they didn’t stop there.

They went to the National Archives branch in New York and offered to index NARA’s New York naturalization holdings. NARA agreed — but wanted another project to come first: it wanted the World War II Old Timers draft records organized and indexed.

Yep. These intrepid volunteers took on that task too. With their volunteer army, they waded through 284 boxes of records, organized them into counties, and created indexes of the more than 900,000 registration cards. That organization allowed them to be microfilmed, and you can find them now on FamilySearch.

Oh, and then came that other “minor little” request from NARA: there were 800 boxes of original ship manifests that needed to be organized and indexed so researchers could get to them. More than 100,000 ship manifests are accessible to scholars and researchers at NARA in New York today because of the work of the volunteers.

And then came the naturalizations. More than two million records to be indexed, from the federal courts of both New York and New Jersey, plus military naturalizations. The amount of effort it took — the work of 2,000 volunteers — is mindboggling.

There’s still more that’s been done and more still going on today. Alien registration forms at NARA. Early land records in Long Island. German enemy aliens listed in the New York Herald. Records of German neighborhood churches in New York City.

And it goes on and on and on.

Everyone who has ever had any cause to do any research anywhere near New York City owes them a debt of gratitude.

For years they have been the unsung heros of New York — and American — genealogy.

And now they are unsung no longer.


SOURCES

Image: Courtesy of Scott Stewart.
Front: John Martino (left) and Don Eckerle (right), Bob Boeckle was unable to attend the NGS Banquet in Richmond.
Back (L-R): Susan Murphy, Margaret DeAcetis, Joan Koster Morales, Terry Koch-Bostic, Randi Patrick, Marie Scalisi.

  1. Award of Merit,” Awards & Competitions, National Genealogical Society (http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/ : accessed 21 May 2014).
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