Thursday, April 28, 2011

One crest, labeled Henry Rough Junior

A second crest, drawn in 1790

In some cases a picture is worth a thousand words! These two drawings were among the Hanson collection papers, mixed in with legal documents and personal letters. They seem to have the same artist, a Caggarus J Rough. They probably come from the Montgomery or Tryon county area.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Volunteer one on one: Ann Aronson

Ann Aronson has been a Grems-Doolittle Library volunteer since January 2006, when Carol Lewis suggested she might enjoy working here. Within a year Ann was also a trustee of the Society and she is currently on the buildings and grounds committee and the Mabee farm committee, as well as a co-editor of the Society Newsletter.
But when Ann is in the library, her main focus is working with our many photograph collections. The first project she worked on was the Laura Brown slide collection, which she organized and boxed.  Since then Ann has been involved in scanning numerous film negatives, glass plate negatives, slides and photographs. She was also involved in the production of Images of America: Niskayuna, a book of pictures relating to Niskayuna, which is for sale in the museum shop.  
Ann’s current project has not only been scanning the photograph collection, but also adding the information to PastPerfect, our digital cataloging system. And when she isn’t sitting the back of the library scanning pictures, Ann is often taking photos at Society events, either at 32 Washington Ave. or at the Mabee Farm. Ann says she continues to volunteer because she loves working with the photograph collection.  She enjoys the Society because of the atmosphere of camaraderie, friendship and fun, which exists here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

An Interesting Discovery about Old Documents

One example of someone using initals as their mark
While working with a collection of legal documents from the 1730s to the 1820s I discovered something interesting about signatures in early America. Previously I had been familiar with the idea of someone making a mark when they are unable to write their name. However, I had always assumed that these marks are almost always simple x’s . Working with the Hanson collection, my assumption has been proved over-simplistic. While it seems that many people chose to make their mark with an X, others were able to sign their initials.
A woman was asked to witness,
despite her inability to write
Additionally, the way that marks were presented is different than I expected. I had thought that people made a mark on a document and that was that. However, when given more thought, how would anyone know to whom the mark belonged? Well it turns out that when someone signed a document with a mark, the scribe or court official would write that person’s name around the mark and indicate that the mark was indeed his or her mark. This practice may have created some confusion, because often beside the signatures of those who had signed for themselves was a bubble with the letters LS inside. After some musing I decided LS most likely stood for Legal Signature, as a way of distinguishing between those who could sign their own names and those who could only make a mark.
L S, most likely meaning Legal Signature

It would be interesting to make a closer study of these marks, to see if any patterns emerge, in terms of who can sign their names and who cannot. I think that such a study might provide interesting insight into literacy in Early America.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Researching your Home

The Mabee Farm, Rotterdam

Everyone’s home has a history, are you interested in learning more about yours? Have you been remodeling or cleaning out and found something belonging to a past resident that made you curious? Did someone famous live in your house, was someone murdered in your house? Do you want to decorate the walls of your house or business with images from the past? We can help you answer these queries!
 Here at the Schenectady Historical Society we have resources which can help you learn about your house, whether it is located in the Stockade or Mont Pleasant. We have many files and photographs about streets in the city of Schenectady, if you want to see what your house looked like in the past, and how your street has changed with time. We have some files dedicated to specific houses, and who knows, one of those houses could be your home!
The Ingersoll Home, Niskayuna
 We also have city directories if you are interested in knowing more about past residents of your house. Were the past residents doctors, butchers, GE workers? Did a family live in your house, did they take in boarders?  If your house has an historic marker we have some original application forms, which may provide you with more information about the origins of your house. We also have scrapbooks on several of Schenectady’s oldest streets, assembled by Jonathan Pearson, a nineteenth century historian. Pearson collected maps, mortgage information and lots of other information and assembled it house by house, street by street. These scrapbooks, known as the street books, can provide a vast amount of information about a property.
The possibilities are vast, so drop by the library and learn more about your house and its past!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Katherine’s Goodbye

Katherine opening her farewell gift

Yesterday was Librarian Katherine Chansky’s last day with the Schenectady County Historical Society. Katherine has been an amazing asset to the Society over the past four years and the next librarian has very large shoes to fill. One volunteer, Elsie Maddaus described Katherine as “organized, knowledgeable and pleasant” and the other library volunteers are in agreement with her. Some words most often used to describe Katherine were friendly, eager, enthusiastic, helpful, dedicated, cheerful and persistent.
There are many projects that Katherine should take credit for including updating the Stockade Booklet, which was first published in the early 60s. She was also the originator of genealogy day here at the Society, a day of workshops and speakers discussing genealogical topics and research. Having historical fiction book discussions, like the program in March on My Name is Mary Sutter was another one of her brainchildren. Katherine has always been anxious to do what was best for the library. Bill Buell told me “when I asked her to be the subject of one of my Gazette QNA's, she agreed, not because she enjoyed the spotlight, but because she knew it would be good publicity for the library.”
Katherine has gone out of her way to teach the volunteers how to handle the library collections with care and how to manage a collection of this size. She has been a great person to work with, and she helped the volunteers to form a cohesive and content group. She has worked hard to make the atmosphere in the library friendly and welcoming, from her smile when you first walk through the door, to her garden of fake flowers plotted around the library.
Katherine posing for one last picture with library volunteers
and staff.
Overall, it is Katherine’s vision for the collection that has set her apart from many of the librarians before her. She has always had, and probably still does have, a to-do list for the library that is a mile long. But that list grows because Katherine is always anxious to take the collection one step further, making it easier to use, and manageable for the researchers and volunteers alike. I know she has left her mark here in the Grems-Doolittle Library and I would like to end by saying that Katherine will be missed as a colleague and a friend and we all wish her much success in her future endeavors.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Treasures of the Hanson Collection

More work has been done with the Hanson collection and it is time for an update. The collection seems to include many documents from the late 18th and early 19th century and some interesting documents have surfaced. I have selected a few that I found particularly interesting or unique within the collection to highlight now.
The first interesting document was Samuel Jackson’s application to be a citizen of the US “that the said Samuel Jackson is as this deponent verily believes attached to the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same; and that he has ever since he has known him behaved as a man of good moral character.” I thought this document was particularly interesting because of the way it is worded. I cannot image anyone today considering themselves “attached to the Constitution.”
The second document that I want to mention made me laugh a bit. It was a letter to Brigadier general Henry Fonda from a court-martialed soldier. This soldier is writing to convince Fonda that he was unjustly charged because the order that he ignored was given to him on the Sabbath, the day of rest for all Christians. He even goes so far as to quote a specific law to the general. Someday I would like to see if I could find out more about this particular soldier and what became of his case.
The  last interesting document from the collection is a letter written in 1812 by a federalist. He spends the whole three pages of his letter writing philosophically about American politics, about the two different parties and about the future of politics in the State of New York. I think this letter would prove an amazing source for historians interested in early American politics.
I am sure to come across more interesting pieces to his immense collection, so I will provide you with another update soon!
Library Assistant Heather Cunningham, reading through the Hanson Collection to create a detailed listing of the materials

Friday, April 8, 2011

Archives in the Modern World- Going Digital

I recently attended a training session with CDLC, to learn how to use CONTENTdm, software that enables the management and uploading of digital archives to the internet. Previously, the Grems-Doolittle library, in partnership with the Schenectady Museum, had added some images and documents related to Charles Steinmetz to the CDLC digital collection. Now we are being encouraged to add still more digital records to CDLC’s growing database of images. 
There is some debate as to what collections we shall select to upload, and to what extent we are going to share our collections online, but we will definitely post something in the near future. Keep an eye out for our digital collections at CDLC’s website, and while we are in the process of uploading images, have a look at the Steinmetz collection.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight- Paul Contarino

Paul originally became interested in libraries and archives while he was working on his undergraduate degree at Marist (class of ’08). He then pursued his interest further by completing not one, but two master’s degrees at SUNY Albany, an M.A. in History and an M.A. in Information Science.  He first began volunteering here at the Grems-Dolittle Library in January, interested in getting more experience working with collections.
Paul has been tirelessly working toward organizing the Schenectady County Historical Society’s records, sorting through boxes and boxes of office and financial records. His work has several steps. He is first going through the boxes and creating lists of what records have been saved, and then will be working with retention schedules, evaluating what should be keep and what records can be disposed of responsibly. It is Paul’s long term goal that his inventory lists will eventually be available online to provide easy access to researchers.
 To give you an idea of the sheer size of this endeavor, the Society’s recent financial records currently fill ten boxes, and that is only the financial records. As you can image these boxes occupy much needed storage space and Paul’s herculean effort toward disposal of the unnecessary records has been a stroke of luck for the library.
When Paul is working on his project here in the library, it is often difficult to pull him away. It is very clear that he truly enjoys what he is working on and he told me that volunteering here at the Grems-Doolittle has provided him with a good experience, working with such a great collection.  When he isn’t working with our collection, Paul has also become involved with organizing the archives at Vale Cemetery. Besides the opportunity to get experience in his field, Paul enjoys volunteering because he likes being able to use his talents and abilities to help the Society.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Original Settlers of Duanesburg

An interesting research question came across the librarian’s desk last week involving the original settlers of the town of Duanesburg. A researcher had read in a book on New York State history that in 1765 James Duane and twenty German families had made a contract and sixteen of these families moved up to Duanesburg, from where they had been living in Pennsylvania. Thus this book was claiming that these German families were the original settlers of Duanesburg. However, the researcher was questioning the accuracy of this piece of information because the book sourcing it was written in 1851.
I decided to investigate further, to see if other historians also indicated that German families were among the first settlers of the town. I determined that the best strategy was to see what past historians had said about German settlers in Duanesburg. I assembled the following list of “facts.”
·         A book published in 1886 stated that “about” twenty German families were invited to Duanesburg and sixteen actually moved
·         A history in 1906 only mentioned eleven families signing the agreement
·         A newsletter article by Lansing Christman from 1965 mentioned an agreement between Duane and nineteen German families
·         And in an article for the Gazette, Larry Hart seems to have agreed with the idea of about twenty families settling in Duanesburg
While everyone seems to be in agreement that German farmers were the first settlers, clearly there are many discrepancies in the facts, and particularly as to how many German families were involved in this agreement. This is not an uncommon snag for research relating to this period of study. Early historians rarely cited the sources of their information, therefore making it difficult for modern researchers to trace details back to the original.
However in this case we lucked out because, while compiling this list of historical opinions, I came across a piece of paper which solved the mystery. I found a transcription of part of the original agreement between Duane and twenty families (exactly twenty, not about twenty). The transcription only includes the names of the male heads of these twenty families, but it also lists those eight who actually signed the documents. So now, not only are we clear on the number of settlers, we also have their names.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Civil War Heritage in Schenectady

Are you interested in the Civil War? 2011 is the  150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War and the Grems-Doolittle Library has several resources which are available for you to learn more about one of American history’s most tragic periods.
Did you know that Schenectady had a local man present at the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s theater? Charles Lewis, a local boy and student at Union College, joined the 119th New York in 1862 and was involved in several of the key battles of the war before moving to Washington D.C. in 1865. After Lincoln’s death, Lewis came back to Schenectady with his wife and carried out the rest of his days locally. He is buried in the Union College Plot at Vale Cemetery, alongside his father who was a professor. We are lucky to know so much about Charles because here at the Grems-Doolittle library we have his Civil War diary among our collections. Charles’s experiences were also the subject of historian Larry Hart’s book, Through the Darkest Hour and copies are on sale in the Society gift shop.
The story of Charles Lewis’s Civil War experiences is remarkable, but his is only one of the many local stories linked to the war and Schenectady in the 1860s. To unlock more about Schenectady in the antebellum and war years visit the Grems-Doolittle library. With a bit of digging in our files who knows what you might find?
Also, if you are looking for a way to interact with the Civil War please attend the Civil War Living History Day held by the Schenectady County Historical Society at the Mabee Farm Historic Site on April 16th 10am-4pm. This event is free to the public and will include music, re-enactments, drilling, cannon and horse demonstrations as well as several guest speakers. For more information please contact Ryan Mahoney at or by phone at 374-0263

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Willis T. Hanson Jr. Collection

I have recently begun working with the Willis T. Hanson Jr. collection here in the library. Willis Hanson Jr. was an historian, writing ‘A History of Schenectady during the American Revolution,’ ‘The Early Life of John Howard Payne’ and ‘A History of St. George’s Church in the City of Schenectady.’ His father, Willis Hanson Sr. was a druggist, involved in selling ‘Dr. Williams Pink Pills for Pale People’
The collection was originally donated in 2001, its contents listed and then the boxes pushed aside. However, now that it has come to our attention again, it is showing itself to be a remarkable collection and resource. After a preliminary study of the collection it seems to cover aspects of Hanson’s personal papers, including correspondence with Yale University Press and notes from his books. The files include copies, and some original documents used by Hanson as sources for his books.  The collection also includes some documents pertaining to his father’s involvement in the purchase of Kruesi Ave. and its presentation to G.E.
In total, the collection includes over 900 documents and will require much more attention, before we know the full extent of its importance.  However, already it is clearly a wonderful resource for the library and destined to contain more than a few treasures pertaining to Schenectady’s past.