Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Commissions in the Grems-Doolittle Library

Commissions grant authority to a person to perform particular duties or tasks. Many of the commissions pertain to positions related to legal functions or the law, including justice of the peace, commissioner of deeds, and public notary. Other local government positions documented include auctioneer and vendue master, inspector, coroner, master in chancery, undersheriff, and member of the city fire department. A few certificates confirming military service are also included in this collection.

Commission showing the appointment of William A.S. North and James Gale of Duanesburg and George McQueen of Schenectady as Inspectors of Turnpike Roads for Schenectady County, 1832 (Com 18).

Those commissioned for a most positions - even for local positions such as auctioneer or leather inspector - were appointed by the governor. The form for commissions of various types use preprinted boilerplate language, with only the position, locality, and date varying.

Occasionally, in looking through the collection, one can find commissions created entirely locally. One such example is this commission, created 1841, affirming the appointment Ralph Ostrum as a member of the fire department for the city of Schenectady in 1834. Ostrum (also spelled Ostrom), originally from Amsterdam, was a silver smith. In addition to being a member of the fire department, he served the city as an election inspector and as regulator of the city clock. This commission shows an aspect of Ostrom's civic involvement that a researcher might not otherwise come across using other resources.

Certificate verifying that Ralph Ostrum is a member of the fire department for the city of Schenectady, 1841. (Com 42)
The commissions in this collection range in date from 1783 through 1897. Most of the commissions date between 1809-1833. A complete list of commissions from our historic manuscripts collection can be found here.

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