In planning for a genealogy trip to New York State’s Capital District, I’m determined not to burn precious road-trip time on tasks I could accomplish closer to home.
Consider the New York vital records microfiche indexes, which list events, names, places, dates and certificate numbers (not the certificates themselves). They’re at the New York State Archives in Albany, but copies are also at several other locations across the state. For me the closest is the National Archives Northeast Region facility in New York City, a commuter’s ride away. Excellent!
The New York vitals parameters read like a particularly nasty pop quiz. Indexes begin in 1880 (for deaths) and 1881 (for births and marriages). They cover everyplace except for (a) Albany, Yonkers and Buffalo births and deaths before 1914, and marriages before 1908, and (b) the city of New York, but do include Staten Island, bits of western Queens and assorted townlands of Brooklyn and Westchester prior to annexation. Births are available after 75 years, deaths and marriages after 50 years.
Got that? Me neither. One can re-read the rules at the New York State Archives site. Do so, and carefully. Dick Hillenbrand’s Upstate New York Genealogy website has a guide to obtaining New York State vital records that is as user-friendly as things get in this cruel world.
The microfiches themselves are straightforward. The older ones run by year, alphabetized by last name. Some years (like the 1956 deaths I searched) are indexed by Soundex, however. (Never leave your Soundex cheat sheet at home, class.)
It was a good day overall. I found all the births where I had specific time frames, plus one birth listing that was a total shot in the dark (a “child died young” who was documented only on my Aunt Catherine’s handwritten Genealogy List). I also easily found death listings for both my Haigney great-great-grandparents, plus a great-great aunt. Marriages were a bust, despite diligent searching. Maybe my relatives didn’t register, or maybe my information isn’t 100 percent accurate. (I know; unthinkable.)
Confirming the existence, dates and numbers of vital records can speed retrieval (and save money) at the state Department of Health, which holds the certificates. Now I need to decide which certificates are most urgently worth ponying up for. At $22 per genealogy copy, this is a serious matter.
If you’re using the New York State vitals microfiches, I suggest these steps:
1. Make sure you really need them. For pre-1880 vitals, you need to dig elsewhere. For New York City, you need the New York City Municipal Archives. And don’t forget that Albany/Yonkers/Buffalo thing.
2. Save your sanity; narrow your date range. Use censuses, military records, family traditions, Bible notations, whatever you’ve got. Newspapers, too– stories like this one can be gold mines.
3. At the repository, tackle your “sure-thing,” specific searches first. Then do the fuzzier searches.
4. Carefully write everything down, especially if you’re sure it’s not important.
According to the Troy, N.Y. Record’s reporter at a Troy Trojans-Albany Senators game, Aug. 15, 1910:
“Scramble the yolks of four eggs in a quart of mucilage, add a bottle of scarlet ink and some nice green-roofed paste and fry slowly over a fire of green wood and season with mock turtle soup and catsup, and the result would give some idea of the kind of baseball which let the Albany club win the opening game of the present series on the local grounds.”
And I thought Cubs fans were bitter.
(From the Record’s ongoing This Day in 1910 series. h/t to Joyce on the NY-TROY-IRISH list.)
It was a dinnertime ritual enacted with gusto whenever my mother’s cousins Alma and Cecelia were in town.
The front door would bang open. My dad would sweep in and declaim:
“Home is the sailor, home from the sea!”
And Alma would reply, from upstairs or down:
“And the hunter home from the hill.”
Cue seven children rolling their eyes. It’s a wonder they didn’t get stuck that way, as my mother was always warning us.
Alma (1897-1981) and Cecelia (“Ceil,” 1898-1980) were Mom’s first cousins, the daughters of my grandfather John Rudroff’s older brother George. Since they were 30 years older than my mom, we gave them the courtesy title “aunt” in a triumph of seniority over genealogical accuracy. Their annual extended visits helped fill the grandparent gap in a family where only Grandpa Rudroff survived into our childhoods.
Aunt Alma was a demon worker, even when she was supposed to be having a nice relaxing family visit. After she whipped through all the laundry and ironing, she attacked the mending basket, then cooked everybody dinner. She thought my mother could use the break from dealing with the seven of us.
Aunt Ceil’s specialty was straightening out my dad’s bookkeeping. Hard to believe in today’s bloated health-care industry, but my dad, a dentist in solo practice, was truly a one-man band. There was always something for Aunt Ceil to straighten out, clucking in impatience at my dad’s handwriting as she sat at the dining-room table, paperwork piled high.
We loved them both to pieces, although Aunt Alma in particular could be gruff. One morning I happened to be alone with her at breakfast. Having an actual one-on-one with an elder was so novel that I began chattering nervously — and mindlessly.
“Tell me,” Aunt Alma said. “Are you planning on becoming a preacher?”
“Because you talk enough for two.”
It wasn’t a visit without Aunt Alma and my dad proclaiming their trademark lines at day’s end. I didn’t realize for years that they were written by Robert Louis Stevenson, in a poem he intended as an epitaph (inspiring a later poem by A.E. Houseman). Alas, unlike Dad and Aunt Alma, I don’t belong to a generation for whom reciting poetry was typical schoolwork.
Here’s the whole thing, in memory of them both.
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
– Robert Louis Stevenson, 1880 • First published in Underwoods, 1887
Spent some quality time watching the hawks circle at High Point State Park, Sussex County, NJ. (And no reality TV crews in sight.)
Today’s NewsClips transcript is a great example of how the right newspaper article can save you lots of poking around. Here’s the scoop on the 90th birthday party given for my great-great-aunt Margaret Haigney Roche — and what it tells me, besides the fact that the party sounds like fun.
The Times Record, Troy, N.Y., Saturday Evening, January 16, 1960 • “Woman, 90, Honored At Verdoy”
Mrs. John Finch of Kelly Road, Verdoy, was hostess to friends and neighbors at her home Monday to honor Mrs. Margaret Roche of 2509 Second Ave. Watervliet on her 90th birthday.
Mrs. Roche, daughter of the late Sgt. Martin Haigney and Mrs. Haigney, was born in Watervliet on Jan. 11, 1870. Her father was stationed for 42 years at the Watervliet Arsenal.
Mrs. Roche is the widow of James Roche who died more than forty years ago. At this time Mrs. Roche moved to Island Park, L.I., and made her home with the late Mr. and Mrs. Robert Walker. After many years she and her sister, Mrs. Walker, came to Verdoy and made their home with their brother, Martin Haigney in Best apartment, Kelly road, and Kennette apartment. [sic] After death [sic] of Mrs. Walker in 1957, Mrs. Roche and her brother moved to Watervliet. The brother is a Spanish-American War veteran. His 90-year-old sister keeps house for him.
At Monday’s party the hostess presented the guest an orchid and the table setting was a beautiful birthday cake sent by the Pittard Baking Co. of Latham.
Following an afternoon of picture taking and gift openings, a lunch was served when Mrs. Roche cut her cake and blew out the candles. She has all her faculties and does all the business for herself and her brother.
Now, what helpful information does this article contain? Besides the part about the orchid? Just off the top of my head:
• Margaret’s address in 1960.
• Margaret’s exact birth date.
• Her father’s military rank and service (although from other records, it appears that “Sgt.” may have been an exaggeration).
• Margaret’s husband’s name and a time frame for his death date (“more than forty years ago” in 1960).
• Her sister’s death year.
• A rundown of Margaret’s other residences (contrary to what I’d thought, she moved outside the Troy-Watervliet area for a time).
• Information on her brother’s military service (“a Spanish-American War veteran”).
Not bad for a throwaway social item, right?
P.S. No Google result for “Pittard Baking Co.” in Latham, but there is still a listing for a “Pittard’s Cookie Jar Catering Co.” Just FYI.