Weekend Research Tour to Albany, New York

By: Kathy Merithew

This post is the last in a series of three guest articles while the regular blogger has been enjoying a vacation in the Scottish countryside.

Kathy Merithew is a genealogist and retired librarian (Virginia Beach Public Library, Virginia Beach, Virginia). A resident of Mathews County, Virginia, she researches in Rhode Island, New York, and Mississippi.

What is research but a blind date with knowledge?
— Will Henry

Have you had the experience of being a part of genealogical research trip? While I have attended genealogical conferences at the local, state and national level, and have visited meetings of my local genealogical association, nothing truly prepared me for the experience of participating in the inaugural Weekend Research Tour to Albany, New York, sponsored by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), July 13-17, 2011. Fifty-four people registered for the trip and NEHGS had a waiting list of approximately another fifty people who were hoping to attend. What a truly great research event it proved to be!

I live in Virginia and have been researching the Merithew line of my husband’s ancestors for approximately seven years. I hit a brick wall soon after beginning. Research time in Albany sounded so inviting and perhaps just what would help me push the research forward. I emailed Josh Taylor, Director of Education and Programs for NEHGS, and he readily answered my questions about the weekend. Soon after I registered, I received a packet of preliminary information from NEHGS, including a research interest form to complete to help the consultants and other trip participants know the lines one another was researching. As the time for the trip neared, I received another packet that included photocopies of each participant’s research interest form, a handout titled Tips for NEHGS Tour Participants in Albany, July 2011, written by Eric G. Grundset, and a schedule of events.

The Albany trip was an opportunity to learn about New York resources as well as research for three days.  We arrived (a short ride by chartered bus) at the Cultural Education Center when doors opened each morning and left when they closed. There are three places to research within the Cultural Education Center: The New York State Library and State Law Library (7th floor), The New York State Archives (11th floor), and The New York State Library Manuscripts and Special Collections (11th floor). The Archives and Manuscripts and Special Collections share the same room, but have different staff.  Each participant had 20 minutes of consulting time each day with the consultant of their choice. The consultants (Christopher C. Child, David C. Dearborn, Henry B. Hoff and Field Horne) had expertise in New York research. Prior to the trip, each of them had reviewed the research interest forms from the participants and, during the consultations, offered suggestions as to resources or strategies they thought might be of assistance. I was interested in obtaining a variety of suggestions and chose a different consultant each day, as did most of the other participants.

I had researched at The New York State Archives before, primarily to look at the microfiche indexes to the vital records certificates that are filed with the New York State Department of Health. As a retired librarian, I am comfortable researching in libraries and adapting to different institutions and their collections. That said, I was very impressed with the various orientations and preparations that NEHGS developed for the participants. We had been given Eric Grundset’s article before we came and it discussed everything from the ins and outs of researching at the building, floor by floor, to where to find food. On Wednesday night, prior to any research, we had two lectures: Henry B. Hoff discussed “New York State Vital Record Substitutes” and David C. Dearborn informed us of “New York’s State Census Records” (not to be confused with New York’s federal census). On Thursday morning, upon our arrival at the Cultural Education Center, the Library, Archives, and Manuscripts and Special Collections staff gave us an overview of how their respective units were organized and how to use some of their resources. The orientations, lectures and information that NEGHS provided were truly assets and helped me make the best use of my research time.

Before the trip, I had searched Excelsior, the online catalog that is shared between the Archives and the Library. While it also includes items from Manuscripts and Special Collections, we learned during the orientation that it was best to ask the staff if something specific was being sought, as not all their titles are included.  After the orientations, I decided that my best strategy was to concentrate on resources that were unique to Albany. Some of the most interesting were:

  • New York State Department of Health microfiche indexes. New York began statewide registration of births, marriages, and deaths in 1880-81. This set of microfiche (separate files for births, marriages, and deaths) covers the entire state, except New York City. Each indexed entry shows the name, date, location and certificate numbers, and does not include the actual certificate. Certificates can only be obtained from the New York State Department of Health, Vital Records Section. I like browsing the death and marriage cards because I learn towns and dates where Merithews lived.
  • Tax Assessment Rolls of Real and Personal Estates, 1799-1804 (B0950). These are available for each county except New York County (Manhattan) and, for the years 1799-1803 or 1804 (depending on the county), include a complete list of resident taxpayers. Tax assessment rolls dating after 1803 or 1804 are mostly lists of non-resident delinquent taxpayers. I was able to find two Merithews that I have researched in the past, but did not know when they moved to Otsego County. I now know that they were both in Otsego County by 1802; Philip Merithew and his son William were in Unadilla and Samuel Merithew was in Unadilla.
  • Newspapers. The New York State Library has a variety of newspapers from different cities and towns throughout the state for various years. One can easily see what is available on microfilm by using the Library’s newspaper database. In addition, The New York State Library will inter-library loan film to other libraries.
  • Atlases and Maps. One of the items I found was an atlas of New York by David Burr, arranged by counties. Each county includes its towns and the lot numbers within the towns. Hopefully, I can use this map in conjunction with land records to determine where people may have bought/sold property.  Along the same line, I found an 1855 map by L. Fagan that names property owners. I was told that property owners paid to have their name included on the map but, nevertheless, it helped me identify the property locations of some of the names I had been researching as well as correct a spelling on one.

As I continue to research in New York, there are several titles published by Genealogical Publishing Company that I use on a routine basis, or that have assisted me at different stages of my upstate New York research.

Frank Bowman has compiled a variety of records in his series of books: 10,000 Vital Records of Central New York, 1813-1850; 10,000 Vital Records of Eastern New York, 1777-1834; 10,000 Vital Records of Western New York, 1809-1850; 7,000 Hudson-Mohawk Valley (NY) Vital Records, 1808-1850; and Landholders of Northeastern New York, 1739-1802.

William Dollarhide’s New York State Censuses & Substitutes is significant when you need to understand when and where New York State censuses were taken, as well as where to find them. It is arranged by county and lists other types of name lists, such as tax lists or militia rolls. Gazetteer of the State of New York, by J .H. French, has helped me understand the history of New York towns. Published in 1860, it has interesting details that may not be easily found elsewhere. For example, the town of Norwich is credited with a piano forte factory.

The most memorable part of the research trip was the people I met. Most everyone on the trip was doing upstate New York records and paths crossed, not just in doing research but on personal notes. For example, I met sisters who had been doing research for many years but had recently been told by their mother that they had a half-sister who had been born in my former city of residence, probably during World War II.  I was approached by another participant who noticed the surname Conroy on my research interest form which was also on hers. Although we quickly concluded that my Rhode Island-turned-Mississippi Conroy line was not her Midwest Conroy line, we enjoyed the discussion. On Friday evening there was a closing dinner and time for people to share their experiences on the trip. The stories were joyful, humorous, and emotional. As for me, I did not find anything that pushed my research forward, but I have some different strategies to use that I might not have thought about without the assistance of the consultants and fellow researchers. Consequently, I am looking forward to another research trip….sometime, somewhere!

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