Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some Gleanings from the CNYGS Conference

APHGA Staff Report
Central New York Genealogical Society Conference
North Syracuse, NY on October 14-15

During the Saturday morning conference session, keynote speaker Barry J. Ewell told the audience he redirected his life onto the genealogy-hunter’s trail because of his mother. Her death in 1998 was the compelling, precious, private reason “that changed the course of my life.” The family gathered records, photos, mementos, and he was soon haunted by the desire to know “who she really was.” His mother, to assure that he got the message, appeared to him in dreams, reminding him, “tell the children about me.”

Many of us have similar reasons to become “history detectives,” and the Conference sponsored by CNY Genealogical Society, as a celebration of their 50 years of sleuthing gave 150 of us many ways to forge ahead toward our goals. Two of our members, Director Nancy Maliwesky, and researcher, Barbara Dix, worked diligently on the program planning committee.

While Barry Ewell repeatedly told participants to “verify, verify, verify,” the information we collected in our research to establish accuracy and credibility, his second lesson was just as important. That was about connecting with others. “You can’t do it yourself,” he said. “It requires asking questions of those who are resource people, people who know the situation.”

That is exactly what happened during this conference, sharing information, advice, experiences, resources, and lots of encouragement, in a comfortable, relaxing setting at the Comfort Inn in North Syracuse. Barbara Dix, one of our Pomeroy researchers, and Town of Schroeppel historian, believes this “intermingling of minds” is one of the best things about history conferences. “You meet people, and reacquaint with people, and you add to each other’s knowledge.”

A Dean from Jefferson Community College came to the conference because she wants to put together a story of her families’ ancestors to pass on to her nieces and nephews. “It’s less about the names and dates, and more about learning how they lived and what they did.”

Eventually, most of us want to “tell the story,” but are still trying to locate sources of vital records and historical details. Some of that information can be found through the internet, but much is still at the local level. Libraries and archives are a bountiful resource, whether at a university, or run by the state, county or town. This conference provided speakers to highlight some of their unique resources and services.

Carole T. of Dewitt said she learned new sources from Suzanne Etherington’s presentation. Suzanne, an Advisory Officer for New York State Archives Government Records Services, spoke about the NY State Archives, and how to look for local records at the county, town and village level. APHGA staff member Pat Whipple found Suzanne’s directions on how to access the NYS Archives via internet to find out what records a local government or historical society may have, was an important practical research tool. (See “how–to” directions addended.) “Knowing what records a county and municipality are required to retain,” Pat said, “gives researchers more confidence to request vital historical documents from local government sites. Suzanne encouraged us to request these records, because many, such as chattel mortgages and early tax assessment records, provide valuable details for researchers.”

Barb Dix heard Holly Sammons, who heads the Local History and Genealogy Department at the Onondaga County Public Library. She didn’t realize that in addition to the many resources kept by the department, they also personally assisted those who need and request assistance. “I told a friend of mine in Oswego that day, to call the OCPL Local History room and see if they might help her, and this morning I got an e-mail back, saying she took my advice and they are now responding to her request.”

The best advice is, never underestimate what your local library can do to help you. Florence G, a town historian, who has been seeking her “needle in a haystack” for a long while, told me that one of her most helpful clues was discovered in a book in the Pulaski library that had an index of marriages for 1828. So her next field trip will be to Geneva, where the marriage took place.

“Getting off the computer, and going to the locations where your family grew up, was one of the important lessons Mr. Ewell emphasized,” Betty Banta, reported. Betty, a Pomeroy researcher, said Ewell “praised librarians, and encouraged researchers to visit them as well as the local historical society, but told us it is important to call ahead, and be specific about what you are looking for, before making the trip.”

College and university archives are also valuable repositories for genealogists. What surprised many who attended Edward Galvin’s presentation, was the wide array of information they have about students, faculty and alumni. Galvin, who is Director of the Syracuse University Archives, showed the diverse collection through his power-point presentation, some of which date back to the early 1870s. Numerous publications have been stored and are accessible, perhaps, more to come. “It would be wonderful if the University got their Daily Orange newspaper and a couple of their newspapers on microfilm,” Carole T. told me. Betty noted that while she doesn’t have a family member connected to Syracuse University, that the general type of information discussed by Mr. Galvin such as yearbooks, student newspapers, associations, literary magazines, and alumni records, will help her when she looks for information at her father’s Wisconsin college.

Breaks between sessions provided ample time for energizing exchanges and swapping information between old and new friends. During one of them, Frances C. passed along the name of Jan G., a knowledgeable volunteer at the Niagara Genealogical Library, who might be able to assist me in researching Pomeroys in the Lockport area. It is always good to have the name of a person to contact for research assistance.

As Carole told me, it was “very helpful to have the surname list, and I highlighted the ones of interest and tracked down several people with common surname interests right there.” One participant, who enjoyed her first genealogy conference, wished she had more time to spend with vendors. She gained helpful information about library and archive holdings from presentations and suggested an excellent future topic. “I would like to know more about marriage and the family in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially regarding divorce.” Her interest, which includes how to sort out adoptions, out-of-wedlock children, and the phenomena of husbands marrying the deceased wife’s sister, is likely to be of interest to many other researchers.

From our perspective, the Conference Program planners offered a substantive, energizing educational experience for genealogists. If any of our readers would like more information about aspects of the program please contact us through our blog.

And if you are in the Central New York region, why not become a member of the Central New York Genealogical Society! Go to this link for membership information:

Alethea Connolly, researcher

ADDENDUM: Accessing the New York State Archives from Suzanne Etherington’s presentation on Researching Rural Communities: Local Government Records and Other Sources, October 15, 2011, by using the Historical Document Inventory database (info formerly found in the New York Red Books) maintained by the New York State Archives to determine what records a local government or historical society may have for a surname, place or subject matter you are researching. To access:

1. Go to New York State Archives website -
2. Click on Research link on the left side.
3. Click on Excelsior Online Catalog link under Research Tools section.
4. Type your “words or phrase” in the search box, select Historical Document Inventory from the “library” drop down menu and click Search button.
5. A list of “titles” in chronological order from newest to oldest is given.
6. Click on Details button to the left of the title.
7. Click on Catalog Record tab to view the abstract and repository location for the title.

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