NYG&B’s new Guide
New York is such an important location for genealogists.
It’s important for those who, like The Legal Genealogist, have immigrant ancestors who came through Ellis Island or Castle Garden to begin their new lives here in the 19th or 20th centuries.
And for those whose ancestors may have arrived with the very first settlers, who spoke Dutch.
And for all those whose ancestors came from the Empire State in between.
But the importance of a location to genealogy sometimes seems to be inversely related to the ease of doing genealogical research there.
And New York is no exception. Think about the fact that — in stark contrast to the careful town records of New England — most parts of New York don’t have vital records dating back to colonial times; it didn’t even try to require recordation of vital statistics until 1847 and that effort was a failure.1
Think about the fact that, “in 1911, a horrendous fire swept through the Capitol, causing wholesale destruction to everything in its path. The flames roared wildly through both the State and Assembly libraries reducing them to ashes.”2 Among the losses: some of the official records of the early Dutch period.
Think about the fact that research in New York is just plain complicated. It was a Dutch colony, then an English colony, then a state with all kinds of levels of government from tiny villages to behemoths like New York City, and sometimes different laws and different court structures in different parts of the state.
Yes, New York research poses challenges. To the point where it is repeatedly called the “Black Hole” of northeast genealogy.3
And it is that characterization that the entire New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&B) would like you to reject. Harry Macy Jr., FAGS, FGBS, writing for the NYG&B, would argue that “New York was wonderful resources for the genealogist” and that an “amazing number of records have survived from the colonial period to the present.”4
It’s just, he explains, that New York’s wide array of sources “may differ from sources found in other states, and one had to learn what they are and how to use them effectively.”5
And that’s the rub, isn’t it? How do we learn what these resources are and how to use them effectively?
It used to be that there wasn’t much help available. The only formal guide to New York research — Laura Murphy DeGrazia’s excellent contribution to the National Genealogical Society’s Research in the States series — was geographically limited to Research in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County,6 and that was pretty much it.
Now, there’s a brand new New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer, hot off the presses from NYG&B — 856 pages of strong evidence in support of Macy’s position that New York has wonderful resources — and it will guide the researcher to those resources across the state and county by county.
Three years in the making, with contributions from more than 100 experts,7 the Guide begins with a timeline of New York history from 1609 to the Second World War, and then presents, in Part One, a Guide to Record Groups and Research Resources. The chapters:
• Colonial Records
• Vital Records
• Census Records
• Immigration, Migration, and Naturalization
• Court Records
• Probate Records
• Land Records and Maps
• Military Records
• Cemetery Records
• Business, Institutional, and Organizational Records
• City Directories and Other Directories
• Newspapers and Periodicals
• Tax Records
• Peoples of New York (ranging from African Americans to the Scots-Irish)
• Religious Records of New York
Part One then wraps up with chapters on National and Statewide Repositories & Resources and a Reference Shelf for New York Research.
Part Two is titled County Guides, including Gazetteers, and as good as the Part One is with its general chapters, it’s here in Part Two that the Guide really shines. Each of New York’s 62 counties is presented with information about its formation, parent and daughter counties, county seat, major land transactions, its towns, cities and villages — including what other counties those may have fallen into during history — and then a complete review of the possible records locations for that county and whether and where records can be found in:
• New York State Census Records
• National/Statewide Repositories & Resources
• Countywide Repositories & Resources
• Regional Repositories & Resources
• Local Repositories & Resources, and
• Selected Print & Online Resources
You can order your copy of the Guide through the NYG&B website here, and I’ll warn you: this isn’t an inexpensive book. For NYG&B members, it’s $65; for libraries, $75; and for non-NYG&B-members, $85, plus $10 shipping.
But for those of us with those Empire State connections, it’s worth every penny.
- FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/), “New York Vital Records,” rev. 30 Jan 2015. ↩
- “The Capitol Fire,” New York State Assembly (http://assembly.state.ny.us/ : accessed 4 Feb 2015). ↩
- See e.g. Gary Jones, “Genealogical Scope,” Gary’s Genealogy Junk (http://www.gjonesgenealogy.com : accessed 4 Feb 2015). ↩
- Harry Macy, Jr., Preface, in New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer (New York : NYG&B, 2014), ix. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CG, FGBS, Research in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County, NGS Research in the States series (Arlington, Va. : NGS, 2013). ↩
- A very tiny contribution from The Legal Genealogist among them, to the chapter on court records. ↩