Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, March 27, 2017

New York State Archives for Genealogists -- Part Three

Genealogists become accustomed to searching for names, dates and sometimes places. This focus on specific information about their ancestors and relatives often prevents them from realizing the need to expand their research into the greater historical context of the time and place where their ancestors lived. For this reason alone, searching in the online documents, photos and other material on a website such as the New York State Archives seems for many researchers to be a waste of time and effort. A quick search for ancestral names that does not produce an instant link to a relative means that they need to move on to another venue.

I can go to any one of the large online websites that host family trees and look through hundreds of entries and I will almost never find a source reference to anything other than the standard census/vital records type information cited by any of the contributors. It is like the researchers are playing a game of baseball with their research, as long as they circle the bases and touch each base, they are home free. When I start talking to patrons in the Brigham Young University Family History Library about maps and history, they get nervous and start asking when I am going find their ancestor. To most, there is only one way to play the game and I am not following the rules.

The New York State Archives is a good example of the broad, eclectic type of collections found in historical archives. It may not be immediately apparent to an inexperienced researcher that valuable information about their ancestral families may be embedded in the seemingly random collections. For example, I searched in the New York State Archives for my Tanner surname and found only four seemingly unrelated documents. But my direct line family, the Tanners, lived in New York for many years and it is likely that some of their descendants still live in New York state. So what else should I be doing?

The key here, as it always is when this question arises, is to broaden my search. I need to be searching for all sorts of categories of documents that might contain information about my family. For example, my Great-great-grandfather Sidney Tanner was born in Greenwich, Washington, New York and lived in Bolton's Landing on Lake George. What would happen if I started searching for documents about these places for a start?

The first thing I found was a map of the Champlain Canal Survey for Greenwich showing the names of property owners along the route fo the canal.

Do I know where in Greenwich my ancestor lived? How do I know that one of these maps does not show his property? The answer is that I don't. But I would also have to search for other family names in order to determine if this particular set of maps applies to my family. Likewise, here is a map of Bolton Landing, where my third great-grandfather owned a huge tract of land.

The key here is searching for more than names. I actually found a photo of some of the land my 3rd Great-grandfather, John Tanner, owned. He owned Green Island where this large hotel was constructed after he left and sold his property

One of my ancestral families lived and stayed in New York, the Stewart family. I found many more items linked to the Stewarts than I did for the Tanners. But then there are searches to be made for the places where they lived and their occupations and their schools and on and on and on.

How many more subjects can I search on? What will I find? Those are the questions you need to be asking yourself when you are researching in depth.

You can find the first posts in this series here:


  1. I am doing it right. I want to mention a few other things I do. As I read the Washington County land records, I note the people who lived around my ancestor given any transaction whether it be buying or selling land. I have found more about my ancestor doing that than any other venue. I am hoping to find someone can give me answer to something that I have wanted to look at for a long time. In the NY Calendar of Endorsed Land Papers it will give you a date in the left hand column regarding an entry. Sometimes the next entry is "map of the same" Just that notation, but alas, in the right hand column is a Volume and entry # and I want to access those pages. Are these original documents that have been condensed for the book format? Where do I find the original or copies of that land map. As this is suppose to be housed in the Secretary of NY State office. I have yet to find and access it. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

    1. Do an online Google search for "NY Calendar of Endorsed Land Papers." Many of those records are published and available on You didn't mention the time period you are searching.

    2. The originals documents and maps from the Endorsed Land Papers are mostly now at the State Archives (with some exceptions). Suggest e-mailing their reference desk ( with the citation from the book, and they'll tell you how you can get a copy.