Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Spooky Schenectady: Halloween Images from the Grems-Doolittle Library

We wish everyone a safe, fun, and happy Halloween! In celebration, here's a look at some tricks and treats of times past in Schenectady.

1969 Halloween parade at Euclid Elementary School. Photo from Eleanor Jaeger School Photograph Collection.

Notice regarding Halloween from an 1863 issue of the Schenectady Evening Star and Times newspaper. Image obtained via www.fultonhistory.com.

1903 newspaper clipping from the Utica Globe depicting a "wheel puzzle" assembled by Halloween-inspired vandals in front of Samuel Hillis's grocery on Mohawk Avenue in Scotia. The Globe reported that the store "was blocked on both sides by 23 wagons, carriages, busses, and carryalls, so closely packed together with wheels locked that the work of removing them was something like the famous '15' puzzle of a few years ago. It remains somewhat of a mystery because the thing was done by 11:00 p.m. The majority of people look upon it as a good joke, remembering their own youthful days and pranks, but there are one or two who have lived long long beyond their 'happy days' and forget that they were many, many years ago young too." James Ransom of Scotia, who spoke with Larry Hart about the prank at the age of 81 in 1972, recalls that "it was done just about every year from about the turn of the century until maybe about 1910 or so . . . Of course the boys had to pick different places each year, but it was always done. I guess it was kind of expected, like a sort of Halloween ritual." Photo of image from Larry Hart Collection.

1927 newspaper advertisement for Halloween masquerade party at the Cains Castle "College of Dancing" at 164 Barrett Street in Schenectady. Image obtained via www.fultonhistory.com.

Costumed children take part in a sidewalk parade down Union Street in 1950. Photograph from Larry Hart Collection.

1937 advertisement for Halloween costumes for children and adults at Kresge's, 271 State Street, Schenectady. Image obtained via www.fultonhistory.com.

Boys march in the 1967 Halloween parade at Euclid Elementary School. Photograph from Eleanor Jaeger School Photograph Collection.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Exploring Schenectady Homes with Vault Book 79

Many of the entries in VB 79 utilize a form, such as this entry, number 226, for 81 Lafayette Street.

Researchers investigating house histories use a variety of sources, such as deeds, maps and city directories. Another helpful resource -- although less commonly found -- are descriptions of properties compiled for real estate sale listings. In our collection of Vault Books, a term used to refer to a variety of account ledgers, letter books, meeting minutes, and even diaries in our collections (click here for a complete list of all of the Vault Books in our collection), is one such example.

Vault Book 79 contains descriptions of properties for sale compiled by Fitch and Griffes, an insurance and real estate company in Schenectady, from 1870 to 1880. Virtually all records refer to properties in the city of Schenectady. The earliest entries are written in a brief narrative format; most entries utilize a printed form that includes spaces to indicate owner's names and descriptions of properties, including lot dimensions, stories, building material (frame/brick), number of rooms, any associated outbuildings such as a barn or carriage shed, price and terms, information about cellars, roofs, water, and fruit trees or gardens on the property.

Listing for home at 120 Front Street, between John Street and Jefferson Street, which after numbering changes became 210 Front Street. The house was demolished around 1966.

"Two story brick dwelling, no. 120 Front Street. Large lot 120 x 60. Garden prettily laid out. Fruit in great variety and abundance. Small barn on alley in rear. House in perfect order and condition, and well arranged for convenience. Good well and cistern, both in-doors and with pumps to each. Thorough drainage. Best of water. Slate roof on house and finish and trimmings of the best material, doors are heavy & well hung. Large dry cellar, abundance of closet room, clothes press large, with drawers, etc., pantries, etc. One of the best constructed and most convenient homes in the city. Price: $4,500."

In addition to those researching a house history, Vault Book 79 is also useful in examining local history and genealogy. Those conducting genealogical or biographical research can find contextual information about the home of the person or family they are researching. Those who examine the book as a whole can chart the development of neighborhoods such as the Stockade or Prospect Hill and compare prices and dimensions of homes and lots. The entries can also help to identify when street names or street numbers changed.

The Grems-Doolittle Library has compiled an index of all entries in VB 79, extracting the street name, street number or location description, and the owner's name, if given. We have created two lists; one arranges properties alphabetically by street name, and the other arranges entries by owner's name.  Both indexes can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Various Deteriorating Conditions": WWII-Era Photos of Schenectady by Glenn B. Warren

Photograph of abandoned building plastered with advertisements, ca. 1944. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Photographs can capture the majesty and beauty of landscapes and buildings; they also can also document the grit, blight, and humdrum aspects of urban life. Below are just a few of the photographs that capture aspects and views of Schenectady in the mid-1940s not often seen -- junkyards, gas stations, newsstands, vacant buildings, garbage heaps, ragged advertisements, the back sides of run-down houses, and the areas around sections of railroad tracks. These photographs serve as interesting records of Schenectady's past. Additionally, in the passage of time, some of the photos appear downright artistic -- such as a lonely view of an abandoned building papered with advertisements.

Scene on Broadway near the Mica Insulator Company, visible in the center background, ca. 1944. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

This group of photographs were taken around 1944 by Glenn B. Warren, who was at that time an engineer working for General Electric. He would later go on to serve as a vice president and general manager for the company. He took approximately 50 snapshots of various parts of Schenectady, mostly clustered around the area around the General Electric works and Broadway, Edison Avenue, Erie Boulevard, Duane Avenue, and Altamont Avenue. Warren's wife donated the images to the Schenectady County Historical Society in 1979 and recalled that her husband took the photographs to document "various deteriorating conditions" in the city and perhaps planned to present them to city officials to stimulate remediation of such conditions.

Bert's Esso Station at 121 Edison Avenue, ca. 1944. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

414 Duane Avenue in Schenectady, home and business of James Laden, grocer, ca. 1944. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Junkyard, possibly Lew's Auto Wreckers at 1067 Altamont Avenue, ca. 1944. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Backyards and backs of buildings along east Front Street and River Street, ca. 1944. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Broadway and Lower Broadway, ca. 1944. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Ice cream lovers gather at the Green's Ice Cream stand at 1109 Erie Boulevard, ca. 1944. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Advertisements and pedestrians on unidentified street, ca. 1944. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Friday, October 12, 2012

First Reformed Church Book of Indentures, 1788-1823

Portion of the first page in the First Reformed Book of Indentures, 1788-1823.

This blog entry is written by volunteer Paul Contarino.

Over the last couple of months I had the pleasure of working on the First Reformed Church’s Book of Indentures, 1788-1823. For those who are unfamiliar, an indenture can be defined as a legal contract involved with a purchase. In this case, all pertained to purchases of land.

The project involved creating high-resolution digital images of each page and extracting information from the indentures to create a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet serves as a finding aid and guide to the Book of Indentures. Fields in the spreadsheet were created with respect to what information might be potentially useful to a researcher, such as the names of the parties involved. The extracted information is subdivided into numerous categories such as page number, transaction date, and name of grantee. The description field contains information about the property, bordering properties and their owners, and any defining landmarks such as streams, trees, and roads. Information about the area of land is provided in morgans, followed by the payment date and method as well as present value. Any commuted land rent is listed and the date given. Memoranda are essentially amendments made to the indenture itself; these notations have been fully transcribed. A New Ledger book, also in the holdings of the First Reformed Church, is referenced by a number of indentures. There are some transactions in which the church elders signed. Some pages contain either a red seal, a non-red seal or no seal at all. Click here to open the complete spreadsheet.

Until I started working on this project, I did not realize the First Reformed Church possessed a lot of land. The ledger proved to be in surprisingly good condition considering its age, and the handwriting fairly legible. It is important, however, to have a digital copy not only for increased user access but also for preservation. Unfortunately, there is the real possibility of a flood, fire or theft.  I look forward to continuing to work with the First Reformed Church and the Schenectady County Historical Society in safeguarding the past.  On a final note, I extend my gratitude to both institutions.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

1865 New York State Census Index and Transcription for Schenectady County

State Street, downtown Schenectady, ca. 1865. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Our volunteers recently completed transcribing information from the 1865 New York State Census for Schenectady County. This project was begun several years ago but had lain dormant for the past few years. Using these transcriptions, we were able to create an every-name index for that census. Being able to access this index is a particular boon to genealogical and historical researchers because the 1865 New York State Census is not indexed elsewhere, such as through websites like www.ancestry.com or www.familysearch.org.

The index, which is posted on our library collections page (click here to access the index directly), contains the first name, last name, middle initial if given, the city/town and ward or election district in which the person resided, and the family number assigned to the household that the individual lived in. Using this information, researchers can consult the transcribed census record or the original census record on microfilm in our library.

Having a digital transcribed record available to researchers in our library makes it very easy to find information for a particular family or individual. It also makes it possible to extract city/town-level or county-level demographic information, such as race, national origin, military service, or occupation of individuals with the click of a mouse.

Section from transcribed entries of the 1865 New York State Census for the city of Schenectady, Ward 1.  

The transcribed records include the following fields: City/Town name; District or Ward number; material of which the house is built; value of building; family number; name; age; sex; color; relation to the head of household; county, state or country of birth; number of children; number of times married; current marital status; occupation; place of employment, if outside the city or town in which the person resides; whether the individual is a native or naturalized voter, whether the individual is a foreign-born person not naturalized; current and former military service of individual; whether the individual is an owner of land.

Below is a summary of our holdings of New York State census records. Please feel free to send an email to librarian@schenectadyhistorical.org or call us at 518-374-0263, option 3, if you have any questions or would like to request a look-up of New York State Census records. 

New York State Census Records for Schenectady County in the Grems-Doolittle Library
1835 - microfilm; printed transcription; print name index
1845 - printed transcription for Rotterdam only. See Mohawk v. 8 no. 3 through v. 9 no. 1
1855 - microfilm; printed transcription; print name index
1865 - microfilm; digital transcription; digital and print name index
1875 - microfilm (searchable index available via www.familysearch.org)
1892 - microfilm; printed transcription for Schenectady Ward 1, Dist. 1 only (searchable index available via www.familysearch.org and www.ancestry.com)
1905 - microfilm (searchable index available via www.familysearch.org)
1915 - microfilm (searchable index available via www.familysearch.org and www.ancestry.com)
1925 - microfilm (searchable index available via www.familysearch.org and www.ancestry.com)