21 September 2009

New York locality based historians

Did you know that many localities in New York State have officially appointed historians?

I was doing some work on my brother-in-law's DuBois genealogy this past weekend and came upon a newspaper article in the Poughkeepsie Journal that talks about the year long vacant job of Dutchess County Historian. This is in violation of state law. Economics is playing a part in the delay of providing someone to fill the job.

As the website for the Association of Public Historians of New York State relates, " In 1919 New York State took the lead with the passage of legislation to create a legion of officially appointed historians in every town, village, city, borough and county across the Empire State. Unique in its concept, it provided every municipality with a distinctly identifiable person whose duties would be to ensure that the history of that area was collected, preserved and used to promote the history and heritage of our communities." The website has a section "Find a NYS Public Historian" where you can check for the historian that represents your ancestral town, city or county. Some have only a mailing address but some do have email contact info listed.

The historian for some localities have an office and others operate out of their own homes. This person may be a genealogist or not, may have excellent files of area information, be able to connect you to other genealogists, may have direct access to the records you need, have indexes, or might be someone eager to help you. A few operate in name only. Not all have websites and may be reached only by letters sent by regular mail. You might find one with records and that allows you to make an appointment to visit in person.
  • The town of Greene (Chenango County) has a website with some good reminders for researchers.
  • The Bovina Town Historian's 2008 report to the town officials is online.This report presents clues to what one active historian does.
  • The Wayne County Historian's website includes details on costs, appointments, and holdings.
  • The town of Aurora has a website that details contact information and time for appointments. The website has the notes from a 2007 presentation about what a town historian does.
This latter website provided these statistics for the state of New York in 2007:
  • 62 borough and county historians
  • 938 town historians
  • 566 village historians

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