Sunday, July 29, 2007

Adirondack Genealogy: Researching Local Family Roots

Despite exaggerated claims that genealogy is one of America’s favorite past times, researching family history has become popular enough to generate tens of millions of web pages devoted to the topic.

A Google search for “genealogy” yielded 35.6 million results

Sports” yielded 710 million results
Coins” yielded 82.3 million results
Stamps” yielded 73 million results
Adirondacks” yielded 2 million results
Adirondack” yielded 5.3 million results
Adirondack genealogy” yielded zero results

Here’s a quick review of free Adirondack genealogy sites that provide resources for the local family historian. If you have some locally important sites to add, just drop us a note at adkalmanack -AT- gmail -DOT- COM.

The Northern New York Library Network has made available (and searchable!) more than half a million pages from 25 area newspapers and counting. It’s one of the most important historical resources for the Adirondack region.

Microsoft’s Live Search Books, Google’s Book Search, the Library of Congress’s American Memory, and Cornell University’s Making of America sites, although nationally oriented, all have amazing collections of full text books and periodicals related to the Adirondacks. Search for your specific surname or location and you’ll be surprised at what you’ll find!

www.usgenweb.org is perhaps the largest and most important free site for American genealogy. Broken into states, and then counties, the site features user submitted wills, census transcriptions, vital records, and more. It’s a great place to start your online Adirondack genealogical journey. Here is a link to New York’s counties.

Of course don’t forget your local library as an offline starting point and general guide to your Adirondack family history. The two most important library sites in the Adirondacks are those of the Southern Adirondack Library System and the Northern New York Library Network. You can get inter-library loans of microfilm and other reference books, and each local library usually has nice local history collection.

When you need help getting a pipe fixed, you find a plumber. When you need help with history, go to a historian. Be sure to meet and explore the minds and collections held by your local historians and local historical society. Each county site has contact info for them – they can answer basic questions regarding local history and many have indexes and access to local records.

Lastly, before we get started on the local sites, you should become familiar with the best way to document your family history. The research is most fruitful when you can pass it on to someone else for their enjoyment – write it down and use footnotes. Cyndi’s List has a large collection of links to help you write engaging and accurate family history.

Here are the most significant links county by county. I’ve noted a few of the highlights, but you’ll need some serious time to delve into all the resources available on each site.

Warren County – Perhaps the best site in the Adirondacks. Tim Varney has compiled an impressive set of resources, frequently updated and growing all the time. One recent impressive addition is the transcription of H.P. Smith’s History of Warren County. The County Clerk’s office has also been digitizing and making available some of the records they hold.

Essex County – Fred Provoncha has taken over the Essex County pages. They offer some gems, including transcriptions of many of the county’s cemeteries.

St. Lawrence County – Norm Young and Russ Sprague maintain a site that includes a nice index of Cutter’s Genealogy of Northern New York from 1910.

Franklin County – Is up for adoption by someone with web skills who can maintain a site that already includes some great resources like an index to Those Were The Days-A History of Bangor, NY.

Clinton County – Check out the 1841 Gazetteer of Clinton County! Maintained by Marion McCreadie.

Hamilton County – Lisa Slaski is coordinator for this site which is one of the most useful of the bunch. Check out the biographies of local residents. Indian Lake Town Historian Bill Zullo also has a site with plenty of local historical resources.

Herkimer and Montgomery counties share a site maintained by Martha S. Magill and Lisa Slaski. A Look at what they recently added to the site will give you a sense of how much hard work they’ve been doing. Check out their transcribed “newsy tidbits from local newspapers” for a real historical and genealogical treat. Also, check out the Fulton Montgomery Photo Archives – it’s quite a collection.

Lewis County – Even though the site’s coordinator Sandy is not from New York, the web page contains some great photos and a killer Lowville Business directory from the mid-1800s.

Jefferson County – Maintained by Nancy Dixon, this site features regular monthly additions. Check out the Jefferson County Pioneers page for bios of early Jefferson County settlers.

Oneida County – Betty Carpenter-McCulloch has grown the site over the past several years to include a amazing collection of cemetery and census transcriptions, and a lot more. One of it’s best features is the collection of links to Native American family history.

Saratoga County – No doubt because of its coordination by Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County and it’s nearness to civilization more generally, this county site is an incredible resource. Check out the list of Saratoga County Databases. Also new to Saratoga is the Saratoga Public Library’s Saratoga Room History Databases which include information on 19th Century Architecture, historical data about notable fires in Saratoga Springs involving prominent buildings, large losses, or loss of life, the index to Dr. Walter S. McClellan’s Scrapbooks about the formation and operation of the Saratoga Spa from 1931 through 1954, a list of unique Saratoga nicknames of the mid 20th century, an index to Print Collection in The Saratoga Room, and more.

Washington County – George A Jackson occasionally maintains a site. Unfortunately, Washington County is well behind the ball when it comes to putting their historic resources on line.

John Warren

John Warren

John Warren founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and oversees the day-to-day operations of the site in addition to editing The New York History Blog.

He has worked in media for 25 years as a print journalist, a documentary television producer, and now in new media. He's on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and is the author of two books of regional history.

John's weekly Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report airs across the Adirondack North Country Region on the North Country Public Radio network.

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