Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Project to Discover Schenectady County’s Eastern European Roots

Vilnius, Lithuania - Korycinski Family Reunion –– I’m in the 2nd row, center, wearing a red shirt - July 28, 2013. Photograph collection of the author. 

A Project to Discover Schenectady County’s Eastern European Roots
Date: Saturday, November 9th
Time: 10:30 a.m.
Location: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady, NY 12305
Cost: Free and open to the public

This blog entry is written by Schenectady County Historical Society member Phyllis Zych Budka.

“To me it is a mystery why I must study history” – those sassy words are the opening line of a poem I wrote for the Mont Pleasant High School Watchtower student newspaper over 50 years ago.  More a fan of my math and science classes, it has taken me until recently to solve that “mystery.”  What changed my attitude?  My retirement pursuit of genealogy and a feeling of responsibility to preserve my more recent family history!

As a result of 5 trips to Poland and 2 trips to Lithuania since 1999, I have records of my maternal and paternal ancestors going back to at least 1800 and, more importantly to me, many “new and LIVING” relatives and friends!  Both sets of grandparents came to Schenectady from . . . well, they spoke Polish but, as I later learned, Poland did not exist when they left their homes in the early 1900s.  I now have an understanding of their reasons for leaving and am most grateful to them for making Schenectady, New York, their home and mine.

Nowy Targ, Poland – Young Adam Zych and his father.  We are probably related, but don’t have the facts yet. –– August 2011. Photograph collection of the author.

The process of visiting the Schenectady County Historical Society library and a visit to the Schenectady City Archives made me aware that, in general, there is very little information available on the thousands who share my Polish heritage.  Thus, my efforts to launch this project with friend, Bernice Izzo.  And, when I opened the box with my parents’ 1930s “Maska” scrapbook, I felt a responsibility to digitally capture and share this combination of personal and community history.

Torun, Poland – Meeting of cousins from both sides of my mother’s family – August 2013.  “Newest cousin” Krystyna (on my right in purple) found me last fall.  She has done an amazing amount of genealogical research and discovered that we are connected on my mother’s father’s side through a female ancestor who died in 1833 in Traki, Lithuania.  “Oldest cousin,” Joanna (next to Krystyna) and son, Wojtek (on my left) – on my mother’s mother’s side - Joanna’s grandmother was my grandmother’s first cousin. Photograph collection of the author.

“Maska,” Polish for “mask,” was a word I heard many times growing up in the 1940s and 50s in the Mont Pleasant section of Schenectady, New York.  The “Maska Dramatic Circle” was where Dad, Stanley Jacob Zych, and Mom, Sophie Victoria Korycinski, met in 1936.  Now, many years later, opening their Maska scrapbook full of play programs, newsletters, news clippings and pictures, I am surprised and delighted to learn more about who they were as young people, before they married in July 1940.

Maska existed from 1933 until 1942, presenting more than 55 plays, all in Polish.  The scrapbook was Dad’s and contains Maska’s first program from Sunday, November 1, 1933.  As I read the contents of the scrap book, both in English and in Polish, I realized that this was more than a family history, more than a recounting of the young adult lives of my parents; it is the history of a community of first generation Americans, the children of the Polish immigrants who came to Schenectady in the early years of the 20th century, before the Great War, hoping for a better life.

“Krewniak z Ameryki,” Sunday, October 6, 1935, at the Polish National Alliance Hall, Crane Street, Schenectady, New York.  Stanley Zych, my Dad, back left with white top hat; Joseph Drapala Sr., kneeling, center.  Photo courtesy of Joseph and Seena Drapala.

The Maska community was largely centered in Mont Pleasant (Schenectady’s 9th Ward).  Few people had cars.  Most members lived in walking distance of the Polish National Alliance (P.N.A.) “Home” on Crane Street, their “theater.”  While I associate the people with Saint Adalbert’s Polish Roman Catholic Church, also on Crane Street, Maska was not affiliated with the Church.

Bernice Izzo and I are leading an effort to share information and discuss what additional help is needed to fill the void – lack of documentation – on the substantial population of Eastern Europeans who came to this area from Eastern Europe who helped to build Schenectady.

Come to the Schenectady County Historical Society on Saturday, November 9th, at 10:30 a. m. to help launch this project.  The meeting is free and open to the public. The pictures included in this blog entry illustrate how I learned to solve the “mystery” and my personal reasons for studying history.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Documenting Slavery in Schenectady

In this document, dated 1809, Phillip Vedder grants permission for his female slave to marry Peter Jackson. Enslaved people in Schenectady, as elsewhere, faced numerous restrictions on their behavior and needed permission from their owners for many life choices, in addition to being used for their labor. Misc 476 from Historic Manuscripts Collection, Grems-Doolittle Library Collections. 

Image of advertisement for sale of enslaved woman and her six-month-old child by Christopher Ward of Schenectady in 1796. This advertisement appeared in the local newspaper of the time, the Mohawk Mercury. Notices for slaves for sale and notices about runaway slaves were not uncommon in Schenectady newspapers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Image from microfilm of Mohawk Mercury newspaper, Grems-Doolittle Library Collections.

Many people conceive of the issue of slavery in American history as a Southern institution. However, the enslavement of human beings was part of the system of labor in New York -- including Schenectady -- from the earliest European settlements in the 1600s through 1827. 11 of the 60 people killed in the Schenectady Massacre of 1690 were slaves, which shows that slavery was a way of life in Schenectady at the time of its early settlement. By 1714, enslaved people constituted 7% of the population of Schenectady. This percentage increased to almost 11% by 1796. 

Letter from John Hansen to Ryer Schermerhorn dated 1772. Hansen, acting on Schermerhorn's behalf, proposes trading Schermerhorn's unnamed "Negro wench" for rum and sugar. From New York State - Slavery, Documents Collection, Grems-Doolittle Library Collections.

Emancipation of slaves in New York State was gradual. Conversations among whites as to whether slavery should be permitted or abolished increased in number in the years leading up to and following the American Revolution. Both the British and Americans offered incentives of freedom and land to blacks in exchange for military service. In 1799, the Legislature passed an act to gradually abolish slavery in New York. According to the Act, any child born to an enslaved woman after July 4, 1799 was defined as an indentured servant; children born after that date would be required to serve their mother’s master until age 28 (for males) or 25 (for females). Enslaved people born before that date retained their enslaved status for their lifetime. A 1817 statute extended freedom for enslaved people born before 1799, who were to be granted freedom in 1827. Essentially, slavery was abolished in New York State in 1827 -- although a loophole allowed visitors from states where slavery was permitted to bring their slaves into New York for up to nine months out of the year. It was not until 1841 that slavery was completely prohibited in New York State, by residents or by visitors.

Bill of slave for enslaved man, Cato, dated 1800. Cato was being sold from Peter Conyne, Henry Fonda, Peter Mabee and Simon Mabee to Jacob Mabee for £85. M-Slaves-3 from Mabee Family Papers, Grems-Doolittle Library Collections. 

Free African-Americans who lived in New York did so at risk of enslavement. The burden was on African-Americans and persons of mixed race to prove that they were free to city and county governments. Those who could not provide proof of their freedom could be jailed on suspicion of being runaway slaves. Authorities in New York State localities had the power to arrest them and place advertisements in newspapers seeking their "owners." If no one claiming to the the person's slave owner came forward, authorities had the right to sell the person into slavery. Free African-Americans could also be kidnapped and sold into slavery below the Mason-Dixon line. 

Photostat copy of first page of a legal agreement dated 1805 between Yat, an enslaved man, and John and Sarah Glen of Schenectady, who owned him. In the agreement, the Glens promise to release Yat from slavery after six years, but only if he agrees to abide by a number of restrictions on his behavior -- including when he can see his wife, when he is permitted to play his fiddle, how often he is to attend church -- and must pay his masters $90.00 at the end of this six-year term. If Yat failed to live up to any of the several expectations listed in the document, he was to "remain a slave forever and [would be] subject to be sold." Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Collections. 

We have in our collection a number of materials that help to document the reality of slavery in what is now Schenectady County. lacking materials that give us the perspective of people locally who endured enslavement -- such as diaries or letters -- we must piece together fragments of information from those who owned, bought and sold, or freed slaves. Documents such as bills for sale of slaves, receipts for the sale of slaves, wills that show enslaved people appearing as property bequeathed to heirs, correspondence that discusses slaves, copies of manumission records, and newspaper advertisements offering slaves for sale or advertising a reward for the capture of an escaped slave. Records from institutions, such as local churches, can show the baptisms, marriages, and burials of enslaved people. A few documents that illustrate slavery in Schenectady are included throughout this blog entry. If you are interested in the history of slavery, the free African-American community, or the Underground Railroad and abolitionist activity in Schenectady County, please contact us or visit our library. We'd be glad to get you started in your research. 

Letter from John Sanders of Scotia to the overseers of the poor for the city of Schenectady. This document illustrates the role of bureaucracy in the years of gradual emancipation. Sanders wished to free his slave, Meg, according to an 1801 act. Under those terms, the overseers of the poor had to confirm in writing that a slave under consideration for manumission was under 50 years of age and "of sufficient ability to provide for themselves." GenL 55 from Historic Manuscripts Collection, Grems-Doolittle Library Collections. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Genealogy Resources in the Grems-Doolittle Library

Genealogy researchers who visit us especially appreciate our holdings of local church records of birth/baptism, marriage, death/burial, and membership. Many of the church records in our collections are transcriptions; the above image is a photostat copy of a page of baptismal records from the Woestina Reformed Church in Rotterdam. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Collections. 

Many of the researchers who visit our Library come to research the history of their family in the area. We have a wealth of resources for visitors conducting genealogical and biographical research about Schenectady County people, from seventeenth-century manuscripts to twentieth-century high school yearbooks. Experienced Library staff and volunteers are available to assist you during your visit and to brainstorm about other possible resources when you get stuck.

Our surname guide to photographs in our collection can help connect people with images of their local ancestors. This nineteenth-century photograph can be found in the Fuller photograph file. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Our Library collections page features a general at-a-glance guide to the kinds of materials we have in our holdings that tend to be of most interest to genealogy researchers. Our collections page also features thematic research guides, indexes, and listings of documents in our Historic Manuscripts Collection -- from accounts and education to correspondence and deeds. The page also includes guides to frequently-accessed materials such as surname files, city directories, church records, and yearbooks. Not all of our collections are represented online, but exploring our collections page is a great way to get a sense of some of the materials in our holdings before you plan a visit.

One resource you won't find listed on our website is our collection of books and published genealogy guides. These materials can be a wonderful resource for researchers. This page comes from one of the volumes of Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, compiled by Virgil White. 

In addition to materials in our library, we often feature programs and events that focus on genealogy research and resources. Our annual Genealogy Day, which will be held this Saturday, October 19, 2013. The event is free for SCHS members; the admission charge for non-members is $5.00. Doors open at 9:00 a.m. and our first speaker begins at 9:30 a.m. a schedule for this year's Genealogy Day is listed below:

9:30 a.m. – 9:45 a.m.
The Role of the County Clerk’s Office in Genealogy - Real Life Stories
by John Woodward, Schenectady County Clerk

10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
Using Court Records for Genealogy Research
by Nancy Curran, Professional Genealogy Researcher

11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
Local History Resources in Union College Special Collections and Archives
by Ellen Fladger, Special Collections Librarian, Union College

12:00 p.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Lunch Break – lunch off-site. List of nearby restaurants provided upon request.

1:30 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.
Accessing Historical Newspapers Online
by Melissa Tacke, Librarian/Archivist, Schenectady County Historical Society

2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Open Research Time in the Library

There is no need to register for Genealogy Day. For more information, contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian/Archivist at the Schenectady County Historical Society, by phone at 518-374-0263, option “3”, or by email at The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Accounts in the Historic Manuscripts Collection

Our Historic Manuscripts Collection comprises some of the earliest documents in our collections, from the 1670s to the early 20th century. One category within this collection is Accounts. Used as a broad category, the Accounts category includes receipts, promissory notes, bills of lading, auction notices, pew rentals, ledger pages, tax receipts, and notes or correspondence regarding land transactions. The Accounts category documents economic activity in our community, from the purchasing of fabric, food, and furniture, to paying for the services of a doctor, batteauman, or teacher, to the ordering of military supplies, to the traffic in enslaved human beings. These financial transactions show us not only about commerce in the community, but also help to shed light on occupations, transportation, military operations, local disputes over land, law, fashion, daily life, agriculture, and the mores and customs of people in our area.

Below are just a few examples of documents in the Accounts category. A full listing of the documents can be found here. Information about other accounts and financial transactions, see our collection of vault books and ask our Librarian about records in our collection pertaining to local businesses.

Portion of Mrs. Jacob Winne's account with Stephen Van Rensselaer for rent, including payment in bushels of wheat, rye, corn,  and via the pasturing of animals. Image of Accts 544 from Grems-Doolittle Library Historic Manuscripts Collection.

This document, dated March 21, 1785, is a statement certifying that a batteauman by the name of Anthony Flansburgh had received all of his pay in service of Joseph Peek's company of batteaumen. Image of Accts 165 from Grems-Doolittle Library Historic Manuscripts Collection. 

1853 receipt of payment of bill to Schenectady Gas Light Company for a home on Union Street. Image of Accts 1804 from Grems-Doolittle Library Historic Manuscripts Collection.

Receipt for sale of a enslaved woman named Sarah, from John Brown to Nicholas Stevens, dated December 6, 1764, for £40 in New York Currency. Image of Accts 1873 from Grems-Doolittle Library Historic Manuscripts Collection.

Receipt for $25.00 paid by Henry Glen, agent to the United States, for sundries advanced to two Indian chiefs and their interpreter, signed James Murdock & Company. Image of Accts 342 from Grems-Doolittle Library Historic Manuscripts Collection.

Receipt for a payment from John Visger to Derrick Groot for “keeping” Susanna Brat, dated February 16, 1776. Image of Accts 1905 from Grems-Doolittle Library Historic Manuscripts Collection.

Portion of a quartermaster’s 1734 calculations for army rations, including flour, pork, rum, candles, vinegar, and soap. Image of Accts 1169 from Grems-Doolittle Library Historic Manuscripts Collection.