Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dutch-language documents in the Grems-Doolittle Library

Land agreement signed by the Mohawks ceding land
in Schenectady, 1670. A translation of the original
document is printed in Jonathan Pearson's History of
the Schenectady Patent.
Given Schenectady's founding as one of the northernmost parts of the New Netherland colony and the longevity of Dutch-speaking settlements in the area, it should come as no surprise that the Grems-Doolittle Library has in its holdings a significant number of Dutch-language documents. There are 550 Dutch-language documents in our collections, including family correspondence, land records, account books, poetry, and other materials. Our holdings of Dutch-language materials date from 1661 to 1909; the bulk of the documents date from the late seventeenth through the late eighteenth century.

Many of the documents have not been translated, although three new translations have been added this year. As interest in the history of Dutch settlement in the area grows, we hope to be able to generate more interest in these materials and translate them so that a broader range of researchers can access the information that these documents contain. Click here to see a complete list of Dutch-language documents in our collection.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Schenectady County Almshouse and Almshouse Records in the Library

About the Schenectady County Almshouse

Schenectady County Poor Farm, ca. 1880.  Photograph from
the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
The Schenectady County Almshouse, also called the Poor House or the County Home, was first established in 1826 under the county board of supervisors. In that year, the county took over the operation of a city almshouse and farm that had been established around 1815, on the summit that would later be known as Hamilton Hill. Henry Clute, the first county "poor-house keeper," provided food and clothing for the inmates. In return, Clute was allowed the farm's products, use of the buildings, and use of the labor of able-bodied inmates. Beginning in 1860, a member of the County Board was required to visit the Poor House weekly to examine the management, condition, and usage of the farm and inmates. By 1879, the position of "poor-house keeper" was abolished and the duties of overseeing operations was assumed by a superintendent of the poor, who resided on the grounds.

In 1892, state law authorized the Board of Supervisors to sell the Poor House farm and buildings and to lay out streets in the area for house construction. In 1903, three interconnected brick buildings were built and opened for the Almshouse on the former plot of the farm, in an area bounded by Emmett Street, Brandywine Avenue, Duane Avenue, and Steuben Street. The County Home would operate here until 1936.

Schenectady County Home, ca. 1903. Photograph from the
Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
In 1935, the county built a new County Home and farm on Hetcheltown Road in Glenville, which began accepting residents in 1936. The name of the County Home was changed to Glendale Home in 1962. The County Home's former building on Steuben Street was occupied by the Schenectady Museum from 1938 until 1968. Soon after the Schenectady Museum relocated to its current location on Nott Terrace Heights, the building was demolished and construction began on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School on the old almshouse site.

Schenectady Almshouse Records Index, 1875-1920

Sample almshouse record card.
In 1896, the New York State Legislature passed legislation requiring officers of public almshouses and poorhouses to submit an annual census of inmates to the State Board of Charities. At a state conference of Superintendents of the Poor, a committee developed a standard form for reporting information about each inmate. The Historical Society has a microfilm copy of these records for the poorhouse in Schenectady County, New York, as well as a smaller number of almshouse records from Saratoga, Schoharie, and Seneca counties. A searchable index of the Grems-Doolittle Library's microfilm holdings of almshouse records can be found here. Society staff will make copies of a card if you submit the request form. Although the Library's holdings of almshouse records span the years from 1875 to 1920, there are often gaps of one or more years in the census returns from a particular county. Most records in are in the 1900-1919 time period.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

John Papp Photograph Collection

John Papp. Photograph from Larry Hart Collection.
John Papp was, as described by a 1978 GE Works News article, “a photographer by trade but a history buff by desire and avocation.” Papp shot many photographs of the Schenectady area, and was an avid collector of historic photographs.

John Papp was born in Bronx, New York, to John and Anna (Juracka) Papp, and was raised in the New York City area and in Tannersville, New York. He joined the U.S. Army in 1949 and served through 1952. That year he married Eileen Specht; the couple would go on to have three children. Papp was hired by the General Electric Company that year. While at GE, Papp worked as a photographer for GE Works News and as a photographic technician at GE’s Center for Research and Development in Niskayuna. Papp worked for General Electric from 1952 until his retirement in 1988.

In a 1989 Schenectady Magazine interview, Papp shared that he first became interested in history when someone asked him to copy historic photographs while he was working for the Advertising and Sales Promotion photo lab at General Electric. He dedicated time and effort to preserving historic photographs of the area. In one instance, Papp relates a story that a friend, Ed Cooley, found a box of glass-plate negatives at the Scotia town dump. Papp, Cooley, and Lou DeCerbo returned to the dump on their lunch hour to try to retrieve any remaining negatives. Papp also collected historic postcards depicting Schenectady, Saratoga, Albany, New York City, and other parts of New York State.

Parade on State Street, ca. 1900. This is one of the many
historic photographs collected by John Papp.
Photograph from John Papp Photograph Collection.
Papp served as Rotterdam Town Historian beginning in 1972, and served on the board of trustees of the Schenectady County Historical Society. He also served on a number of committees related to historic celebrations in the area, including the Rotterdam bicentennial and sesquicentennial, and Schenectady County bicentennial.

Papp is the author of 27 booklets related to local history, transportation and other topics. Many of his booklets were self-published, and range in length from 16 to 66 pages. Titles include: Old Schenectady (n.d.); Schenectady Then and Now: Photos as Early as the Civil War (1966); Trolleys: The Forgotten Transportation, From Horse-Power to Electric-Power (1968); Schenectady’s Changing Scene: an Illustrated Tour Through the Streets of Schenectady’s Past and Present (1969); Those Golden Years: The Circus (1971); The Old Car Book (1972); Ships of the Seven Seas: The Interoceanic Ship Railway (1973); Erie Canal Days: Albany to Buffalo (1975); My Father Used to Tell Me About ... (1977); The Horseless Carriage: Over 100 Photographs of Classic Automobiles (1979); Smoke n’ Rails (1979); Titanic (1981). Papp also published a number of booklet reprints, including Albany Bi-Centennial 1686-1886 (1970), Fire! Fire! Firemen: A Tribute to the Nation’s Firefighters (1972; originally published in 1939), and Traveller’s Pocket Directory & Stranger’s Guide, Exhibiting Distances on the Erie Canal & Stage Routes in the State of New York, A Facsimile of the 1831 Edition (1978).

In addition to Papp’s work as a photographer and historian, he was also a musician. He played with the 10th Division Army Band in Manhattan, Kansas, during his Army service. Papp also played as a drummer in his Johnny Papp Quartet, which played weddings and other events in Schenectady, as well as in the Lenny Ricardi Big Band. He was a drummer in the Capital District Marching Band from 1980 to 2004.

In addition to historic photographs, the John Papp Photograph
Collection also includes manyphotographs taken by Papp,
including this photograph of the Cobblestone Church in
 Rotterdam, taken in 1975. 
He was a board member of the Musicians Union, and was a member of the Automobilists of the Upper Hudson Valley, Titanic Historic Preservation Society, Professional Photographers Society, the Rotterdam Elks 2157 Lodge, and was a committee member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 357.

John Papp died on May 17, 2005, at the age of 72. He is buried at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Niskayuna.

The John Papp Photograph Collection is comprised of photographic prints, negatives, and slides taken and collected by John Papp. The photograph collection documents the city of Schenectady, as well as more general topics about which Papp had a special interest, including the Erie Canal, automobiles, and ships. The bulk of the collection consists of photographic prints, but also includes some slides and a few glass plate negatives. The collection also contains a small amount of research material created and compiled by John Papp pertaining to the Erie Canal and local history. A finding aid for the collection can be found here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reminder: Reunion of Civilian Conservation Corps alumni, family and friends

Please join us to hear Civilian Conservation Corps alumni share their stories at our CCC reunion on Monday, August 15.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Family files

If you are just getting started in researching a branch or member of your family in or near Schenectady County, taking a look at our family files is a great place to begin. They are also a source worthwhile to revisit if it's been a while since your last trip to our library. These files contain a variety of information collected or donated by library patrons over the years, as well as materials added by our library staff and volunteers. The number of resources provided in family files varies greatly; most family files contain obituaries, newspaper clippings, genealogical charts, and lineages. Many include photocopies of photographs and portraits, copies or transcriptions of family bible records, citations of other records sources or sources in genealogy publications, and correspondence detailing research about the family. Some family files contain hidden gems -- copies of death records or birth certificates, whimsical caricatures of prominent members of the family, and copies of wills, correspondence, or military records are just a few of the items we've seen patrons discover in our family files.

While our staff and volunteers add to our family files regularly, some of the most valuable materials added to our family files come from library patrons that share their research, documents, and photographs by allowing us to photocopy them. We greatly appreciate these contributions, which make us better able to help other genealogists for years to come.

We maintain an alphabetical list for our family files, which was recently updated and can be found here. The notations in our family file list also can help connect you to other sources about the family surname you are searching, including original documents, photographs, genealogies and lineages, collections of personal papers, and digital records or collections on CD. A key to these notations can be found at the bottom of every page of our family file surname list. If you don't see the name you are searching for in our list, you may want to browse our general letter files (for example, the "A" file includes material related to all surnames beginning with the letter A not included on the family file surname list).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Irving Eaton, the last surviving Civil War veteran in Schenectady County

Irving Eaton, ca. 1940. From Grems-
Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
"I may be old, but I'm still full of hell as ever." These were the words of Irving Eaton at the age of 97, as he was profiled by a reporter for the Schenectady Gazette in 1940. At the time, Eaton was the sole surviving Civil War veteran in Schenectady County and one of the few surviving Civil War veterans in New York State.

Eaton was born in Cold Springs, New York, to John Eaton and Emeline Parks. He grew up near Coxsackie. Eaton enlisted at Kingston, New York, on April 28, 1861. He served as a private in Company A, 80th Regiment of New York State Volunteers. In a 1933 Schenectady Gazette article, Eaton related that when he first enlisted as a private, he intended to be a drummer boy, but under some pressure from the lieutenant of his company, he entered the war as "a full-fledged fighting man" alongside his father. His brothers Sylvanus and Warren also served in the Ellsworth Zouaves and the 57th New York Infantry, respectively. Irving Eaton took part in the battles at Gettysburg, South Mountain, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Second Bull Run, Norman's Ford, Warrenton Springs, Gainesville, Groveton, Petersburg, and Chantilly. One of Eaton's most treasured memories of the war was seeing Abraham Lincoln on October 1862 following the battle at Antietam, when Lincoln, along with General George McClelland, came on horseback to inspect the camp. Irving and his father were honorably discharged at Portsmouth, Virginia on January 29, 1866.

After the war, Eaton returned to live with family in Coxsackie. He stayed in the Coxsackie area until approximately 1881, when he moved further north. In Malone, New York, he met and married Elizabeth Connors in 1883. The family moved to Casaville, Quebec, Canada, and had four children -- Ernest, Emeline, May, and Irving Barron. The family moved back to New York after Eaton learned that he could only apply for his Civil War pension as a United States resident. After living briefly in Franklin, New York, the Eatons moved to Schenectady around 1900.

Black-and-white photograph of portrait of Irving
Eaton, painted by Harold Mott-Smith. Photograph
from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
While in Schenectady, Eaton worked for the American Locomotive Company as a foreman until his retirement around 1920. He also served as Commander of the Horsfall Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. He was known as the city's "grand old man" for his war record and activity as a grand marshal in Schenectady's Memorial Day parades. He attended reunions at Gettysburg in 1913 and 1938. In a 1941 WGY interview, Eaton remembered meeting Confederate veterans in 1913, saying, "They gave me as strong a handshake as any man ever got. I have the greatest respect for them, and for all the others who fought through the war."  Eaton was also a communicant at St. Luke's Church and a member of the church's Holy Name Society.

A dinner in Eaton's honor was held at the Hotel Van Curler in Schenectady on February 21, 1941. His portrait, painted that year by General Electric Company artist Harold Mott-Smith, was given by the American Legion to the city to hang in City Hall and was accepted by mayor Mills Ten Eyck. The portrait is now in the care of the Efner City Archives and History Center. During the last year of his life, he helped to urge Schenectadians to purchase defense savings bonds.

Eaton died at his home at 325 Division Street on October 15, 1941, following a brief illness. He is buried in Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Niskayuna.