Monday, May 13, 2013

#NGS2013 – Cutting Through the Confusion: Research in Upstate New York

At the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society, Karen Mauer Green presented a session titled Karen Mauer Green“Cutting Through the Confusion: Research in Upstate New York.” Green is an editor, author, lecturer, and professional genealogist. She co-edits the NYGB Record. She has served on the boards of APG and FGS.

“This is a huge subject, upstate new york,” she said. “We can’t cover it all in one hour.”

“I want to give you some guidelines and tips and also warn you about some pitfalls,” she said.

The definition of “upstate” differs by person and situation. For purpose of the lecture, Green defined upstate New York as everything but the five boroughs of New York City. She focused on the time span 1780-1850.

One confusion experienced by researchers in New York state is town versus township. In New York, the concepts are equivalent. In my recent research, I found records giving the living place of an individual alternately as Dugway and Albion. Both are true because Dugway is a place (hamlet?) within the Town of Albion in Oswego County.

“You’re used to having records in certain places and that is not always the case. It leads to blinders.” There is no real consistency among counties. Counties differ in “what information is recorded, what the record is called, how and where the record is preserved, and how the record is accessed.”

“This has all been very negative, but I have more bad news,” Green said. In the focus time period there are no New England style town vital records, A state law to keep them was passed in 1881, but consistent records were not kept until 1908. Further, there were no county marriage records.

Substitutes for vital records are worth looking for. Some are newspapers, justice of the peace records, minister’s records, and church records.

Green discussed other records useful for doing research in the time period, which I won’t mention.

“I know I have been discouraging to you, but the good news is that people do break through [brick walls],” she said. Back up. Start over. Apply cluster methodology (Elizabeth Shown Mills’s FAN club—Friends, Associates, and Neighbors).

“You will almost always find a gate,” she said


  1. The biggest NY issue is the county clerk and FOIL. Some of them will follow it, and some will not. Montgomery refuses to allow photography. Delaware charges for pictures taken with one's own camera. Onondaga also refuses to allow pictures. The state has issued several rulings stating that it is illegal to prevent it, but...

    1. Dear FeelingHopeless,

      Can you direct us to copies of these state rulings. That could be very helpful to genealogists.

      --The Insider

  2. This was a good session, but I'm not sure about her point on town vs. township. She talked about a town as being some sort of strange thing for midwesterners, but after doing some research a New York town looks pretty much like an Ohio township. Ohio doesn't have towns, so it is just a word change.


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