My butt-factory mystery is solved. (“Yay!” cry the readers. “We can all relax now!”)
After posting a cri de coeur about my ancestors in the 1870 census for West Troy, N.Y., I thought some more about their mysterious occupation: “butt factory.”
This called for serious scholarship. Somebody with a solid handle on 19th-century industry in the Albany area. Somebody (hopefully) snicker-proof.
Luckily, there is a terrific organization to contact: The Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway. Since 1972, the Gateway has been dedicated to preserving and teaching about the Capital District’s industrial legacy. Anybody with working-class ancestry in the Albany-Troy area probably knows what a powerhouse it was back in the day. The first iron mill started cranking in 1807; the United States Arsenal in Watervliet was built in 1812. The Erie and Champlain canals added fuel to the engine. The textile mills, the early ironworks like Burden, the pioneering union activists like Kate Mullany – it’s all pivotal (if underappreciated) history.
Still — what might it have to do with a butt factory? There was only one way to find out. This was not how I pictured introducing myself to the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, but what can you do. I sent the email.
In short order came a response from the Gateway’s executive director, P. Thomas Carroll, PhD: “Sure, I think we can help you.” Just like that. Professionalism personified.
Tom explained that the term “butt” has two potential meanings in this context:
(1) a cask, i.e., barrel, with a capacity of about 120 U.S. gallons.
(2) the sort of hinge that looks like this:
Tom wrote: “It’s called [a butt hinge] because, when you mortise the two plates of the hinge into recesses in the door edge and in the door jamb, the door and the jamb can then butt right up against each other when the door is closed, which is of course what you want to properly seal up the door opening.” It’s a basic, basic hinge. You might be looking at one in your house right now.
[The blog will pause for five minutes while everyone goes to inspect the nearest butt-hinge. Reports are due next Wednesday.]
Tom believed my ancestors were working in a place that made hinges, not casks. Why? He enclosed this page from the 1863 city directory for Troy and West Troy. It includes two butt-hinge factories. One was across the river in Troy, but the other, Roy & Co., was right in West Troy:
It was quite likely that my ancestors, 16-year-old James and 10-year-old Timothy Connors, worked at Roy & Co. in 1870.
In a subsequent email, Tom sent an image from the 1899 city directory that included a Watervliet entry for “Connors, James, buttmaker, house 437 Broadway.” Guess what? 437 Broadway is where my James lived at the time of the 1900 census. Apparently the hinge business agreed with him.
Sometimes we have to move beyond the usual genealogical sources to color in the outlines of our ancestors’ lives. Fortunately, there are dedicated and knowledgeable individuals who can give us that lost background. Like Mr. Carroll, who saved my poor eyeballs another Googling for “butt factory.” You have no idea how grateful I am for that.
Note: In addition to operating the Burden Ironworks Museum, the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway hosts terrific activities. Some past examples: tours of historic factory buildings, architectural walking tours and the “Troy’s Tiffany Treasures” tour celebrating the city’s extensive legacy of Tiffany artistry. The 2013 brochure is due next month. Watch this link for more information.
I’m quite excited, and not just because it’s the second time in as many weeks that I’ve managed to sneak a reference to the Whig Party into the blog. The Troy Irish Genealogy Society has a new addition to its Troy Newspaper Project:
This is the sixth data set added to the newspaper collection, and includes 821 reports of deaths and the names of 1,749 brides and grooms. All of it is from a period that considerably predates 1880, when civil registration became law in New York State.
Project coordinator Bill McGrath shared these highlights:
• Most of the records are from the Capital District area, i.e., Troy and neighboring cities such as Albany, Watervliet (West Troy) and Schenectady.
• A significant number of records came from nearby states such as Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.
• In the next few months, the society plans to add more of the 28,000 death and marriage records reported in 40 years of the Troy Daily Whig from 1839-78. They’re also working on a database of 4,000 burial records from St. Mary’s Cemetery in Troy.
The volunteers of the Troy (N.Y.) Irish Genealogy Society (TIGS) have added another link to an impressive chain of database projects: a Surrogate Court Index for Rensselaer County, N.Y. covering 1786-1917. A nice gift just in time for the holidays.
Here are the details from the society:
ANNOUNCING NEW DATABASE
RENSSELAER COUNTY, NEW YORK
SURROGATE COURT INDEX
A. An index of 31,325 Rensselaer County Surrogate Court Records from 1786 to 1917 has now been added to the Troy Irish Genealogy (TIGS) website. These records, especially those prior to 1880 will be of great interest to genealogy researchers. The information in this data base was copied from a file in the Rensselaer County Historical Society, 57 Second Street, Troy, New York.
B. To view these records go to the Troy Irish Genealogy website at: http://www.rootsweb.com/~nytigs/ and click on PROJECTS and then click on RENSSELAER COUNTY SURROGATE COURT INDEX. It should be noted that these records, like most of the TIGS data series, cover the general population in the area and are NOT restricted to Irish surnames.
C. For each name in the on-line index there is a Surrogate Court Record folder that may contain various original source documents such as Wills, Letters of Administration, Guardianship Papers, Invoice of Property, Depositions Concerning a Person’s Death, etc. The on-line index shows the following information for each record which may help you identify those records that will be of interest to you:
1. NAME – Last, first, middle name or initials if any, and titles like Dr., Rev., etc.
2. FILE NUMBER – Used to locate the files at the Rensselaer County Historical Society.
3. LOCATION – Gives name of city, town or state of residence.
4. DATE – May be year of death or year of legal issue.
5. INV. – Indicates when there is an inventory of household goods in the record.
An invoice may be in the records EVEN if this column is not checked.
6. COMMENTS – This column will have an interesting comment for each name.
Some comments may show marital status (bachelor, spinster, widow, widower),
while other comments may show maiden names, occupations, name of
street residence, relationships (wife, husband, mother, father, son daughter,
etc.) and number of children.
D. Copies of any original source documents that are contained in the file folder for each name can be requested from the Rensselaer County Historical Society. The TIGS website has a PRINTABLE FORM that can be used when requesting copies from RCHS. For each request there is a $5.00 fee which will cover RCHS’s cost of locating and pulling a singular file folder from the archives. After the file folder is located, RCHS will contact the requester about the contents of the file to see which documents they want copied at a cost of .25 cents per page plus postage for mailing.
E. Hopefully this new on-line index, along with the many other TIGS projects will be useful to Troy area genealogy researchers.
TIGS Project Coordinator
Clifton Park, NY
Listen, I like Ancestry.com just fine, but every once in a while I get a little bug-eyed at how much it just keeps growing and growing, merging into everything that lies in its path. Some days it’s hard not to feel like Steve McQueen and friends confronting the Blob outside that funky 1950s movie theater.
I continue to poke and prod at Ancestry’s sprawling holdings — not only the obvious stuff like censuses, but at esoterica like the family histories, church histories and old society programs squirreled away in the card catalog. However, I freely admit there are days when the sheer volume of material (and quirky search engine) overwhelm me.
That’s when I’m grateful that it is still possible to find online repositories that are focused and personal labors of love, like ConnorsGenealogy.
This is a site maintained by California researcher Pat Connors, and once I get past that fact I honestly don’t know where to begin, there is such a variety of well-organized information here. On the home page, there are regular updates about what’s new and what’s coming up, a very good starting point.
If you are interested in Irish research, this is a great place to visit. There are photos and townland maps, arranged by county. There are also baptisms and marriage listings for Connors/O’Connors and various other surname interests of Pat’s, and even if you’re not related, you’d be surprised what might be in there. For instance, I don’t think I’m related to Pat, but because there happens to be a Troy, N.Y. section to the site, I stumbled across a date for my great-great-grandfather’s declaration of intent.
But even without that, I’d love this site for its wealth of general information about Ireland, its surname registries and the energy that bounces through the entire endeavor. Sites like this have the real-person touch that can help a beginner chart a path that takes them beyond the index-searching stage. Which is where we all need to go, sooner or later.
Bill McGrath of the Troy Irish Genealogy Society (TIGS) recently announced another exciting indexing project: a compilation of death and marriage notices in a variety of area newspapers. The project volunteers will transcribe an extensive listing covering 1812-1885. This is a significant time frame in that it predates civil vital records registration in New York State.
If you have relatives you’re researching in the Capital District, this database will be worth exploring. The names in the records are not exclusively Troy residents; the newspapers covered surrounding towns, and there are mentions of people from counties throughout New York State, as well as Vermont and Massachusetts.
The original information was compiled in the 1930s by the Philip Schuyler Chapter of the DAR, with funding from the federal Works Progress Administration — a New Deal agency that enabled important public works projects nationwide.
The first records are already up at the TIGS site and consist of 608 death records and 1,152 marriage records published in The Troy Post from Sept. 1, 1812 through July 1, 1823.
Read on for the complete news release from TIGS: