By Valerie LaRobardier
You might be surprised at the wealth of family history information available offline yet still within reach. My next several columns will cover repositories within driving range, including preparation for your visit and tips on how to maximize your results. Let’s start with Putnam County.
Before you drive anywhere, prepare for your visit. Check the repository’s website to learn the hours, location, extent of collection and parking, and call to confirm. Some research libraries will want a brief idea of your query so they can have files ready. Some require an appointment.
Ask what you may bring in. Often it is only a few sheets of paper, a pencil, laptop and cell phone. Find out what they charge for copies, and whether you need change to pay for them. Once you have scheduled a visit, put together a summary of known data for the family you are researching. Make it concise, only the most significant points — travel light! If you feel insecure leaving detailed files behind, bring them along but leave them in the car. It is easier to find the details you need with fewer papers to shuffle.
Familiarize yourself first with the family and local history collections at your local library. The Dutchess County Genealogical Society (of which I am president) has an excellent survey of the collections in the Mid-Hudson Library System compiled by Beverly Kane. Many of the items in their collections are not listed in the online catalog. Some local history books have been digitized and are available online, such as at the Desmond-Fish Library’s Livingston-Svirsky Archive (LiSA) at desmondfishlibrary.org.
The Putnam County historian’s archives, at 68 Marvin Ave. in Brewster, has an excellent collection of maps, church records, surname folders, court records, ledgers and more. See putnamcountyny.com, where you can download a table of contents for the collection. The county historian also has a useful Handbook for Putnam County History and Genealogy, compiled by Deputy Historian Sallie Sypher, for $8. The table listing records for each church with record type and time-period alone makes the handbook a good buy.
County Historian Sarah Johnson and her staff provide enthusiastic assistance. The atmosphere of studious concentration is often punctuated by lively discussions as researchers share their mysteries and successes. Familiarity with all aspects of the collection helps the historians ferret out valuable clues in unexpected places.
As one would expect, the focus of their collection is on the period from the 1812 separation from Dutchess County forward. However, you will also find microfilms of Dutchess County deeds from 1718 to 1793, selected town record books, South Precinct poor records 1764 to 1812, books on early settlers, Dutchess County tax lists 1718 to 1787, Dutchess County probate records 1787 to 1865 (abstracts compiled by Arthur Kelly), abstracts of deeds 1787 to 1812, list of Putnam County wills prior to 1788 and much more.
Wills and probate records before 1931 are kept at the county historian archives; later dates are held at the Surrogate’s Office in the historic courthouse in Carmel. Deeds from 1812 to 1937 are kept at the archives and more recent ones at the county clerk’s office in Carmel. The county historian’s office is creating an every-name index that is now complete to 1863, greatly simplifying land record searches.
The handbook previously mentioned also contains a directory of Putnam County’s municipal historians, churches, records management officers, libraries, genealogists, historical societies and museums, including the Putnam History Museum, at 63 Chestnut St. in Cold Spring.
This museum has an incredible number of surname files capturing every name its volunteers have corresponded on or researched. Its focus is on the West Point Foundry, the local historic district and families that have long-established history in the area. There are boxes of photos for large families and homes in the historic district. Volunteers are busy digitizing sections of the collection. Its map collection includes some of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlases, valuable for locating neighboring properties. The Putnam County News and Recorder is available on a searchable disc from 1866 to 1935, on microfilm from 1866 to 2006 and on paper from 2007 to present. Its library contains local history books and biographies of famous locals such as the Warner sisters, Benedict Arnold and John Andre.
See putnamhistorymuseum.org for library hours and links for researching Putnam County genealogy. Visitors must submit the research request form provided and make an appointment in advance so that staff can be prepared.