With the advent of online archives and searchable databases, what once required a trip to the local court house or hours sifting through library archives has, in many cases, been replaced with simple keystrokes. However, knowing what to search or where to start can still be a challenge.
One resource that can help and is available to the public for free is www.archives.nysed.gov. The New York State Archives maintains a digital collection site which provides access to millions of photographs, artifacts, government documents, manuscripts, and other materials--some of which are more than 350 years old. Most of these items come from the New York State Archives, but the online collection also includes material from the New York State Museum, State Library, and project partners across New York State. The website is overseen by the State Education Department with support from the New York State Archives Partnership Trust.
Some archives feature old maps and surveys. Some are pictures of past farm operations and old ledgers and others feature flyers or advertisements from days gone by. Each archive is specifically sourced and includes the date (if known), the collection from which it was preserved, and additional information to provide more context for the reader.
One archive preserved an essay written by a young student in 1918 who was assisting in the war effort by working on a farm in Central Square. According to the site, in 1917, the New York State Education Department began a program that allowed students between the ages of 16 and 18 to sign up and become farm cadets. Many teens jumped at the chance to become a farm cadet, and to leave their homes in the cities and towns and assist with the war effort by replacing the laborers who had enlisted in the military. From April-September, students worked on farms throughout the state and, in order to receive academic credit for their contribution, wrote essays about their experience. The essay archived is the cadet's final report.
All archives can be downloaded or shared directly from the site on social media. They can also be expanded in size so the images can be easily seen in full screen. For educators, there are short tutorial on how to incorporate primary sources and other historic sources into classroom instruction. This video features an archivist at the New York State Archives, and a county clerk providing research tips on searching county records and describes all that is housed at a county clerk's office, http://www.archives.nysed.gov/education/video/finding-records-county-clerk. There is also information on how the archives can be tied to curriculum for each grade level.
There are also extensive resources for those interested in genealogy at http://www.archives.nysed.gov/research/featured-topic-genealogy. While records were not archived for the purpose of genealogical research, many archives are helpful to genealogy research because they include naturalization papers, land records, census information, birth, marriage, and death certificates. In addition, the state has made a subscription to ancestry.com available for free to New York State residents. Images and archives of interest can be stored online through the service. In recent years, the state has added more records to the searchable databases on ancestry.com including New York Civil War enlistments, 1861-1900; New York town clerks’ registers of men who served in the Civil War; New York marriages 1600-1784: and New York military equipment claims, War of 1812.
Those interested in creating their own account on New York ancestry.com should visit http://www.archives.nysed.gov/research/how-to-video-ancestry for directions for the free subscription. If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.