I am in New York City today, meeting with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society about their fantastic new guide for genealogical research in New York, the New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer. Although it has been delayed in production, it is in the final stages of preparation and should be available soon. In the meantime, I thought it would be very appropriate to discuss New York research today.
Back in 1974 the New York State Library (NYSL) was concerned with preserving valuable historical documents in its collections dating back to the early colonial period and settlement by the Dutch. Partnering with the Holland Society of New York, NYSL created the New Netherland Project. The purpose of the project was to translate the many surviving seventeenth-century documents into English and publish them.
Over the years, many documents were lost. The worst damage came during the 1911 fire at the state capital, which destroyed some 270,000 manuscripts. Fortunately, about 12,000 pages have survived the ravages of time to document that early period.
There have been many attempts through the years to translate the records to make them more accessible, starting back in the 18th century. Unfortunately, none of these was particularly successful. Indeed, one of them, by archivist Edmund O’Callaghan, saw the records dismantled from their original bindings and reassembled according to his own organizations system: something that would not occur today. Much of the early transactions were selective, including only those items deemed important by the translator.
In 1986, the Friends of the New Netherland Project formed to assist in raising funds and otherwise supporting the work. Today the group is known as the New Netherland Institute (NNI), dedicated to increasing understanding of our Dutch Heritage. In addition to supporting the publication of the documents, NNI provides educational programs, and resources for both students and teachers. Online, they have digital exhibitions and some of the published transcriptions are also available.
Perhaps the biggest venture, however, started in 2009 with a visit from their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince William Alexander and Princess Máxima of the Netherlands. The occasion of their visit launched a major new project, the New Netherland Research Center (NNRC).
The NNRC is located in the New York State Research Library. It provides access to original source materials, translations of Dutch documents, and other resources. The NNRC also provides fellowships for scholars dealing working on the Dutch colonial period. The NNRC is now the group in charge of publishing translations of the early Dutch documents as well.
Those with roots in early New York have great resources available to them. Fortunately, there is also tremendous support for research with these documents. The good work of the NYSL, NNI, and the NNRC and their predecessors have opened up research to today’s English-speaking researchers. If you find their work helpful, consider supporting them with a tax-deductible donation. Pay it forward.