Little-Known Records and your New York Research Challenges

When the class instructor tells you to choose another line rather than spin your wheels looking for records in New York…

…t is time to adopt a different approach. The way West by land from New England was across New York–very hard to go any other way–especially before 1850. Even access to New Jersey was across Long Island

Birth and death records were not kept until after 1881. Marriages were performed by local officials and ministers and recorded in their personal records or the churchbooks. The marriage was announced by the groom-to-be in the newspaper which circulated in the area where the groom and bride resided.

The lands were owned by land speculators and land companies who kept track of persons applying for land holdings in their own records. The majority of land west of the Hudson River was granted to land speculators and large land companies; who, in turn, sold it to settlers on long-term contracts at high interest. These private jurisdictions held control over the land, and the records, until the contracts were fulfilled and the titles clear. So that before 1850, few land deeds and other property transactions, were recorded in the county courthouse. This created a major gap in the records of more than 60 years!

Instead, the private papers of the speculators and the ledgers of the land companies are the sources which record the land transactions of Western New York settlers. And these sources often yield the places of origin for your ancestors. Among these private collections, you can find these sources–

Journals– chronological record of transactions
__General Journal
__Daybooks-kept by individual agents
__Sales Books
__Modified Sales Books-lands sold at auction

Ledgers– separate accounts of individual customers, each on separate page
__General Ledger
__Cash Books
__Deed Register-deeds issued when land paid for
__Register of Land Allotments
__Ejectments, for non-payment, for abandonment
__Receipt Books
__Statement of the Settlers (census)
__Quit Claims-lands sold at auction
__Mortgage Discharges

    Copies to the settler
Copies to the company
Arranged by Township and Range, very few indexes
_Articles of Agreement-could be endorsed like a check to new owner
__Bonds-payments recorded on reverse side of document
__Mortgages-includes date recorded at courthouse
__Deeds of Title-contains the plat of the land
__Tract or Plat Books-maps of the land parcels
__Abstracts of Title-many are military in nature military service grants

Other Records
__Minute Books-meetings of stockholders, agents
__Trust Estates
__Letter Books-correspondence in and out
__Notices in Newspapers-copies cut from the paper
__Survey Books-may not include names, just calls

These documents and ledgers are business records—with double-entry bookkeeping. Watch for them by title in record inventories, in periodical articles, and in footnotes and bibliographies. Your favorite New York genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS New York is such a challenge that I usually make a full research trip every other year to the State Archives and selected local research libraries in the state.

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