Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Where are the rest of the records?


With the overwhelming number of digitized, genealogically significant records going online almost daily, we might have a tendency to believe that "everything is being digitized." This impression is far removed from reality. What is out there that we have yet to identify, catalog, digitize and index? I live here in Provo, Utah, home of the largest private university in the United States, and predominantly inhabited by people who appreciate the importance of records. Are there still significant numbers of records here in Provo that need to be digitized both for research and preservation? Absolutely.

Probably one of the largest such accumulations of records resides in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library in the Harold B. Lee Library on the campus of the Brigham Young University. Here is a description of this huge collection from the BYU website,
The L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library preserves and houses materials requiring regulation. Because of their uniqueness, value, or fragility, these materials are given great care to protect them from damage or theft and to ensure their proper long-term use.
Hence, Special Collections acquires, preserves, and makes available for use printed materials (280,000 books, pamphlets, prints, etc.) and a vast array of items comprising manuscript materials (8,000 manuscript collections including diaries, journals, papers, music scores, university records [including records of retired faculty], and 500,000 photographs).
I am not picking on this particular university, there are approximately 24 public and private universities and colleges in the State of Utah, not counting those operated for profit. Each of those schools has a library and it is almost certain that there are significant portions of the books, documents, and records in those libraries that have yet to be digitized or preserved.

I use this only as an example if you extrapolate this fact across the United States to all of the colleges and universities, approximately 4,000 or so, you can imagine the number of documents, manuscripts and other records that remain on paper and researchable on at each of these institutions' libraries. We delude ourselves if we think that the process of digitizing all the world's records is in anything more than its infancy.

I have another illustration from here in Utah. This past week or so, I was asked to look for a copy of a book containing the reports of the cases from the Supreme Court of Utah. I have been used to using digitized case law for many years. But I was surprised to find that the particular volume from the early 1900s was not readily available online. One of the very, very few losses I have suffered as a result of retiring from my law practice was losing access to the online legal database programs such as WestLaw.com. I was surprised that these early Utah Supreme Court cases were not readily available online. I did locate a copy in the BYU Special Collections Library, but in this particular case, the researcher that asked the question found a copy online in the HathiTrust.org.

The HathiTrust.org is a partnership community of universities and colleges in the United States that provide digital, online access to their library records. Surprisingly, Brigham Young University is not listed as a partner and the number of partners is far fewer than the more than 4000 such institutions in the United States.

So, any genealogical researcher who claims to have done a reasonably exhaustive search of existing records would have to have spent a considerable amount of time in a significant number of special collections libraries depending on the area of the United States where the research was being conducted. In reality, I suspect that no individual during an entire lifetime, adequately review even a small portion of the records available in the United States that are still on paper and uncataloged, unindexed and undigitized.

If you expand this view of records to local public and private libraries, historical societies, museums and other repositories, you can begin to see the vast scope of what is left to digitize in the United States alone. I cannot tell you how many people have come to me and claimed the "they have looked everywhere for records of their ancestors" and after I asked if they had searched in newspapers, special collections, historical societies and elsewhere, have come to realize that their research had only just begun.

As genealogists, we need to become more aware of the records around us and become knowledgeable about the need to digitize, index and preserve these valuable records. As a community we need to become more proactive is facilitating the digitization and preservation of the existing records. I will refer you again to the post entitled, "Preserving Historical Records: Lesson of the National Personnel Records Center Fire."

Friday, March 24, 2017

New York State Archives for Genealogists -- Part Two


Libraries and archives are realizing that digitization fulfills severals of their main objectives including preservation and making their collections available for research and study. The New York State Archives, like many other repositories, creates an income stream from selling copies of the digitized documents. Here is a description of the New York Archives collections from the website:
The New York State Archives' Digital Collections provides access to photographs, textual records, artifacts, government documents, manuscripts, and other materials. Most items come from the holdings of the New York State Archives, but this collection also includes material from the New York State Museum, State Library, and project partners across New York State. 
If you have questions about our holdings, or if you would like to request copies of State Archives materials, please contact our reference desk at ARCHREF@nysed.gov or 518-474-8955.
When any collection of documents is digitized, there is always a background issue of copyright protection for some or all of the items. A genealogical researcher needs to have a general knowledge of the categories of copyright restrictions that apply in the countries where the researcher intends to copy documents. In the United States, the copyright laws are unclear and very complex. A good summary of the laws is available online from Cornell University's website, "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States." This summary is updated each year and it a good idea to review the summary from time to time to refresh your memory of the overall restrictions and to become aware of any new changes to the law. Here is the statement made by the New York Archives concerning the copyright status of their online collections:
Copyright and Use Statement

The Office of Cultural Education, NYS Department of Education, is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes. Please read the following terms of use, as they will guide the appropriate use of the materials found in this resource. 
While every effort has been made to select and present material in the public domain, some materials, particularly State Agency records, may be protected by the copyright laws. The nature of these materials may make copyright difficult or impossible to determine. When known, information on permissions is noted. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. Responsibility for securing any necessary permission ultimately rests with the user. 
Please note: This website contains high quality images from the New York State Archives, New York State Library, and New York State Museum. If you wish to receive high quality copies of images from the other repositories represented, you must request reproduction from the institution listed for each record. 
Credit Line: Material on this website is drawn from the resources of the New York State Archives, New York State Library, New York State Museum, and a variety of project partners. Please carefully check each image, text, or other material for the appropriate credit line. 
The Office of Cultural Education is eager to hear from any copyright owners who are not properly identified so that appropriate information may be provided in the future. Please contact us at archinfo@nysed.gov.
This is a very fair and reasonable statement of the possible issues arising from copying items online. One import statement is the need to provide attribution for anything copied that is not specifically noted to be in the public domain. However, for research purposes, genealogists should not only be aware of the need for attribution but should also be providing detailed and complete citations for each record used for making historical conclusions. We should all be providing a clear explanation of our conclusions and providing complete and very adequate references or citations to the place where the records or documents can be viewed or obtained. 

In short, failure to give attribution is not simply a matter of courtesy, it can be part of the copyright law of the country. Items in the public domain are exempt from this requirement, but all other materials copied should be carefully cited according to the particular requirements of the originator of the work. 

Going back to the digital collections online from the New York State Archives, they have several ways to search their collections: Browsing by Collections, by Places, by Repositories or by State Agencies. 


Stay tuned for a more detailed analysis of the contents in the next post in this series.

You can find the first post in this series here:

http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/03/new-york-state-archives-for.html

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What is a genealogically significant document?


By focusing on a narrow topic, such as the lineage of a single family, genealogists tend to be rather parochial in their consideration of where and how to find information. In fact, in my experience, genealogist are not only parochial, but also provincial in doing their genealogical research. I have written in the past about the extreme manifestations of both of these attitudes but since this subject comes up frequently, I seem to always return to say more.

The two most common manifestations of these attitudes are the tendency of genealogical research to focus on an extremely narrow and confined definition of "genealogically significant documents" and their tendency to avoid any records or documents that take effort either to decipher or to find. For example, I find very few researchers who use books or microfilm. Because of the vast number of records that have been digitized and are available in some form online, they seem to feel that unless a document is readily available on one of the huge, online, genealogy database websites, then it is too much trouble to go any further. They then complain about their genealogical "brick wall."

OK, there are exceptions. I know a few really talented and dedicated researchers who have traveled all over the United States and the world looking in libraries and record repositories for records about their families. But even in the relatively very small community of persistently active researchers, there are only a few that make any effort to break out of the confines of the online digital records.

Part of the reason for this insular view of genealogy comes from an inability to visualize their ancestral families in their historical context. Genealogical research becomes a simple task of adding a name, a date and sometimes a place. We are rewarded for the number of slots we can fill up on our pedigree. Now, I have to point out that I live in many different genealogical sub-communities and depending on your own background and experience, you will either consider me to beneath your notice because I do not have the "credentials" of a "real" genealogist or at the other end of spectrum, I become an elitist who refuses to see the perspective of "common genealogist" and their concerns and limitations.

But reality is that this dichotomy actually does exist within the genealogical community and it is primarily caused by a lack of awareness of the breadth of the historical context and the realization that there are no insignificant historical facts. I can quickly determine the level of historical interest and knowledge of a researcher by posing the following questions:

  • Have you searched the tax records?
  • Have you search livestock brand records?
  • Have you considered mortuary records?
  • What was the religious affiliation of your ancestors?
The list could go on and on. The last question I listed, about religious affiliation, is one that indicates best the attitude of the researcher. I am not talking about people who are just beginning to do genealogical research. I am talking about people who are not open to suggestions that they will have more success if they take the time and make the effort to search beyond the obvious census and civil registration records. Of course, I am also pretty much aware that these same people will probably never read a genealogy blog. 

So what is the definition of a genealogically significant document? My answer is that a genealogically significant document can be any document that was created during the lifetime of the ancestor and has any possible connection to the place where the ancestor lived without consideration as to the category of document. Until you understand the social, political and cultural context of your ancestors' lives, you will not be able to identify genealogically significant documents. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What do Siri, Google Home, Amazon Echo and Alexa have to with Genealogy?


The answer to the question posed in the title of this post is simply this: almost nothing! I have recently written about my long involvement with voice recognition or VR software and since my latest return to using this software, I continue to be impressed with the improvements in the software's accuracy and utility. However, VR software, such as Dragon Dictate on my Apple devices, is not the same as the voice command devices listed in the title to this post.

Genealogy is a highly involved and complex pursuit involving intense research into historical documents. Part of the research process involves documenting and recording our discoveries. Some genealogists also spend a great deal of time teaching, writing and presenting online and in person. These activities could be done with a piece of paper and pencil, but over the years most writers have moved first to typewriters and then to computers. When I first started practicing law, my father, who was also an attorney, wrote everything out by hand on sheets of yellow paper. When my father retired from the practice of law after nearly fifty years of active practice, he was still writing almost everything he did on yellow sheets of paper with a pencil. When I started, I used voice dictation equipment. I would speak into the dictation machine, actually a specialized voice recording device, and then an assistant (used to be called a secretary) would transcribe the tapes by typing out the words. Then I would review the transcription and make changes and then it would be retyped, sometimes several times. If copies were needed we used carbon paper.

When I had been practicing law for a few years, technology began to develop in the form of expensive and rather massive "word processing" devices, such as the Wang Word Processor. Lawyers were not in the forefront of those adopting new technology. But I was fascinated by the possibility that I could speed up the process of producing written documents. This could turn into a long story. To summarize, I tried every level of word processing program that developed. I tried to get the other attorneys around me to change and finally, after nearly thirty years of practicing law, many attorneys had started to use computers in their document processing activities, but most relied on their legal assistants and were still dictating documents.

Now, fast forwarding to today, I write even more than I did during my law practice and I am still looking for ways to be faster and more productive. Voice recognition software has the promise of achieving more productivity and greater speed, but it is still, even with the advances, more like a cranky and willful child than an experienced assistant. Right now, for example, I am using my keyboard to type this post. Why aren't I using voice recognition? Because I have a cold and cannot talk. Hmm. There seems to be something missing here with the whole technology advancing aspect of our modern world.

Now, what about voice controlled devices? Obviously, they are a boon to those with limited mobility. But don't mistake these devices for advances in productivity. They are billed as convenience devices. My experience with Apple's Siri is an example of why these devices do not assist me as a genealogical researcher. The Siri program simply cannot do anything I need done. I do know a lot of people who use voice command devices regularly. I just don't happen to see the need. I can turn on lights with a switch and not have to think about the process. I do not want my devices talking to me and distracting me from my work. I have enough interruptions as it is.

In analyzing the whole development of voice controlled devices, I am reminded of the time when the more affluent members of our society had human servants. As genealogists, we are reminded of this every time we discover a family on a census record with one or more seemingly unrelated family members who are sometimes identified as servants or farm laborers. I come from a more independent background. I would rather do for myself. The main reason I like computers and the internet is that they actually do something productive, not just something convenient. They are tools that extend my own capabilities.

To illustrate what I mean, I would refer you to the complete list of Amazon's Alexa commands. See "The complete list of Alexa command so far." If you look at what this "amazing" device can do, the commands fall into several categories: turning off and on music or media, telling you the time and date, recording lists, turning on news and weather, finding restaurants or simple questions about music, doing simple math, asking about sports, ordering from Amazon.

Now, if you want to spend thousands of dollars, you can also have these devices connected to even more "smart" devices and run the lights, heating and cooling and other parts of your home.

Guess what? None of those things help me to do anything I need done. Not one of those things help me with my genealogical research, in fact, they are mostly a distraction. So, when I am writing and talking about voice recognition software, I do not include voice controlled devices. As an experiment to illustrate my point, ask Siri or Alexa to open your genealogy program and search for your great-grandfather.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New York State Archives for Genealogists: Access to the Archives


Considering the amount of digital material that is appearing online, if you are contemplating visiting any archive, including the New York State Archives, it is a very good idea to do all your homework online in advance of your visit. It can be very disappointing to arrive at the archive and find out that the records you need have been digitized and made available online and the originals copies are no longer available for examination. This can happen because of the fragile condition of the original documents. Fortunately, many of the archives around the world are making their collections available online. But there are still very substantial numbers of documents that are unique and only available for inspection by an onsite visit.

If you finally decide that a physical visit to the archive is necessary, make sure you fully understand whatever rules pertain to your visit and which records you would be allowed to copy and which records would not be available except through obtaining special permission. New York State Archives has its own Research Room Rules as do all of the other record repositories in the world. It is heartbreaking to arrive at the entrance to the archive and find that it is closed for some local event or holiday.


In many cases with archives and university and college special collections libraries, the shelves holding the material are "closed" meaning you have to request access to each item you wish to examine and wait while an archive employee retrieves the items. Many times, you will be required to examine the items in an enclosed area called a "reading room" or similar title such as a research room. Access to the reading room or research room and the items you can take with you into these facilities are regulated.  Just for an example, here are the items which are permitted and not permitted in the New York Archives Research Room.
B. Items Permitted and Not Permitted in Research Room 
Researchers may have the following items in the Research Room: 
pencils (provided)
loose blank paper (available on request)
notecards and notes
spiral notebooks (without pockets) [microforms area only]
folders (without pockets)
laptop computer (without case)
hand-held cameras (without case)
magnifying glass (available on request) 
The following items are not permitted in the Research Room: 
three-ring binders
folders and spiral notebooks with pockets
mechanical pencils
pens
scanners
computer and camera cases
overcoats
briefcases and suitcases
handbags and pocketbooks
backpacks and fanny packs
food and drink 
Reasonable accommodation. A researcher may ask staff about arranging for a reasonable accommodation for a medical need.
With these types of rules, some of the archives provide lockers to store personal items while accessing the reading rooms or research rooms.

More importantly, access to some or all of the collections in an archive may be limited to accredited researchers. In some cases, access is limited to those who have pre-registered and allowed access. From this fact alone, you can see that planning your visit is absolutely necessary.

All of these rules are a good incentive to make sure the items you need are not already available somewhere online.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Guide to New York State Genealogy Resources Online -- Part Three


Based on population, New York is the fourth largest state in the United States. However, it still has a population greater than many of the world's countries. Its population would make it the 59th most populous country in the world if it were ranked as a country. Just for interest sake, the other three states with larger populations, in order, are California, Texas, and Florida.

If you also consider its historically strategic location on the North American continent, you can understand why it is a topic of interest to many genealogists, especially those in the United States. I have selected three general categories of records out of the thousands that exist to illustrate the types of records you can find online. For example, Ancestry.com alone has over 10,000 different collections
of records that pertain to New York State. Here is a sample of some of the online records.

Cemeteries
I list cemeteries as first in importance because so many people have lived and therefore died in the state over the years. Of course, you should always check the huge cemetery database programs, but here is a list of those plus a few more dedicated to New York State.
Census Records
Previously mentioned the New York State Census records that are available from 1825, every ten years to 1875 and then again in 1892, 1905, 1915 and 1925. Both FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com have the state censuses from 1855 onward. The earlier state census records are available from the website of the New York State Library on a web page entitled, "Census - New York State."

There are also some county censuses available as follows:
Genealogists generally use the term "vital records" to mean birth, marriage and death records. However, many other types of records are often included in that broad category. For this reason, some of the online websites with genealogically important records have started creating a category for only "birth, marriage and death" records. The remaining records that have been included in the broad category of vital records are now usually found categorized as court records. In some cases you will also see the following:
  • Birth Records include both baptism and christening records that are usually church records
  • Marriage Records also include divorce records
  • Death Records include burial, cemetery, and obituary records
These types of records can be found scattered online in websites from digital newspaper websites to local genealogy society websites. This is an area of genealogy that defies generalizations. In every case, you are looking for a specific record. For some assistance, you can see the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki article entitled, "How to Find United States Birth Records." There are similar articles on the other components of the vital records category. For a more general starting point, you can also begin with United States Genealogy in the Research Wiki. Here are a few of the websites with lists of New York State online websites excluding the large websites such as FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.


The first post in this series can be found here:

http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/03/a-guide-to-new-york-state-genealogy_18.html
http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/03/a-guide-to-new-york-state-genealogy.html

Sunday, March 19, 2017

New York Public Library Online -- Part Three: Genealogy Resources

https://www.nypl.org/about/divisions/milstein/genealogy

There are a significant number of digital, online records available for genealogical research at the New York public library. Here is a description of the collections:
The Milstein Division of United States History, Local History & Genealogy is one of the largest genealogical collections free and open to the public. Following is a selective list of resources, with an emphasis on New York City. Unless noted, all sources are located in the Milstein Division (Room 121). Many of the microform titles are self-service in the Milstein Microform Reading Room 119.
As with many of the major libraries in the United States, their online digital resources are available primarily only to patrons who are physically present in the library. In some cases, remote access can be obtained by having a library card or paying an extra fee. It is important to review the list of resources because it may well be that many of them are available either in your local library or in a Family History Center.

Searching the catalog for items of interest may be beneficial in making a decision as to whether to travel to the library for on-site research. As is the case here with the New York Public Library, some of the databases listed are subscription-based and free access is granted for searches made within the library itself. As a comparison, there are only a few items listed on the New York Public Library website that are not also available through the Brigham Young University Family History Library in Provo, Utah. However, from a researcher's standpoint, the items that are not generally available may be worth a trip to the library.

The Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History, and Genealogy collection is described as follows:
The Milstein Division's book and serial collections are supplemented by materials in other formats. Visual resources include photographic and negative collections, primarily of New York City views, and over 100,000 postcards documenting United States local views. A local history ephemera collection of provides primary study materials for the cultural, social, and religious history of the United States. The Milstein Division also collects political campaign ephemera, including broadsides, and pamphlets. Vertical files and genealogical charts further enhance the holdings of The Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy.
When confronted with a description like this, the genealogical researcher may feel like he or she is going on a fishing trip without knowing whether or not the fish are in the lake.

The NPL also has over 300,000 e-books and audiobooks available to library cardholders. Genealogists are not being discriminated against. Every library in the United States has some restriction on access by the general public. Most Access restrictions focus on property ownership within the area served by the library. In addition, many other libraries such as the NPL, require residency in the state of New York but in order to obtain a license or library card, you must live, work, attend school or pay property tax in New York State.

Here are the first parts of this series:

http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/03/new-york-public-library-online-part-two.html
http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/03/new-york-public-library-online-part-one.html

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Guide to New York State Genealogy Resources Online -- Part Two


Have you noticed that the vast majority of the disaster and monster movies focus on New York City? For genealogists who like to watch those kinds of movies, this highlights the importance of the records found in the Empire State. The first European land claim to the area that is now New York State came in 1609 from Dutch explorers. In 1626, the Dutch "bought" the island of Manhattan from some Native Americans. Stories from this time period focus on the low price paid for the land, but there are also speculations that the Natives did not "own" the land in the first place and so the transaction set the stage for the long history of land speculation and commerce in the area. England eventually pushed the Dutch out and renamed the land, New York after the Duke of York who later became King James II and VII. See Wikipedia: History of New York.

FamilySearch.org has 50 collections of free records from New York State going back to land records as early as 1630 and probate records beginning in 1629.


One definite benefit to genealogists is the existence of New York State Census records beginning in 1825 and continuing in 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915 and 1925. These are particularly significant because of the loss of 1890 U.S. Federal Census records.

The vast New York Public Library has a huge and important collection of genealogical records. See Genealogical Research at The New York Public Library.

A convenient list of New York counties and a summary of their genealogical records in on the New Horizons Genealogy website's "Search Free New York Genealogy Records Online." Repeated Google searches for New York genealogy records will produce listings to hundreds of useful websites. It is highly unlikely that any one researcher could do an exhaustive search of all of the records in New York State even those that are available online.

For many researchers, the immigration records from locations in New York are extremely valuable. From 1820 to the opening of Ellis Island in 1892, approximately 11 million immigrants came through Castle Garden on the tip of Manhattan Island now known as Castle Clinton National Monument. The free CastleGarden.org website has a searchable database of these 11 million immigrants.


Castle Garden was replaced as the immigration processing center by the opening of Ellis Island in 1892. A searchable database of approximately 52 million passenger records is maintained by The Statute of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation Inc. However, researchers should be aware that many other ports of entry existed in the United States and searching immigration and passenger lists can sometimes require some rather extensive genealogical detective work. For example, one of my own immigrant families entered the United States in Passamaquoddy, Maine.

One unusual and interesting website is the Old Fulton NY Post Cards website with over 37 million pages of historical newspapers from the U.S. and Canada, including New York State. Although this website is rather strange, it is useful.


To be continued

The first post in this series can be found here:

http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/03/a-guide-to-new-york-state-genealogy.html

Friday, March 17, 2017

Preservation Week -- Pass it on...


American Library Association is sponsoring a national Preservation Week from April 23rd to the 29th, 2017. Here is the explanation about the challenge:
In 2005 the first comprehensive national survey of the condition and preservation needs of the nation’s collections reported that U.S. institutions hold more than 4.8 billion items. Libraries alone hold 3 billion items (63 percent of the whole). A treasure trove of uncounted additional items is held by individuals, families, and communities. These collections include books, manuscripts, photographs, prints and drawings, and objects such as maps, textiles, paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and furniture, to give just a sample. They include moving images and sound recordings that capture performing arts, oral history, and other records of our creativity and history. Digital collections are growing fast, and their formats quickly become obsolescent, if not obsolete.
The importance of our awareness is explained as follows;
Some 630 million items in collecting institutions require immediate attention and care. Eighty percent of these institutions have no paid staff assigned responsibility for collections care; 22 percent have no collections care personnel at all. Some 2.6 billion items are not protected by an emergency plan. As natural disasters of recent years have taught us, these resources are in jeopardy should a disaster strike. Personal, family, and community collections are equally at risk. 
ALA encourages libraries and other institutions to use Preservation Week to connect our communities through events, activities, and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections.
From my own perspective, the American Library Association is vastly underestimating the number of records and the challenge. This is a substantial example of the need for genealogists worldwide to become proactive in the area of document preservation. Individually, we can take this as a good opportunity to look around in our own neighborhoods, cities, counties and states or provinces to see what can be done to support the preservation of records that are already in libraries and archives.

A Guide to New York State Genealogy Resources Online -- Part One


The genealogical impact of New York cannot be underestimated. A very high percentage of all the immigrants who came to America either settled in or passed through New York on their way to living in America. This fact alone makes New York State a prime area for broad interest among genealogists. There is probably no way to completely enumerate all of the genealogically significant records available in the entire state without writing an entire book and even if that were to be done, the book would almost instantly be out-of-date.

However, there are some of the major genealogical resources that can be highlighted and that should not be overlooked. There are already a number of lists of such resources available. The FamilySearch.org Research Wiki has a rather long list in an article appropriately entitled, "New York Online Genealogy Records. "


Ancestry.com has an extensive list of genealogical records from New York State. If you look at the Ancestry Card Catalog and filter the results for New York records, you will find over 10,000 collections of records with information about people in New York.


In addition, Findmypast.com also contains significant collections of records from New York. The list goes on for pages in the A-Z list of this website's record sets.



In fact, almost every large online database of genealogy records will likely contain valuable records from New York State and some of those records will probably be unique.

The New York State Archives has another huge online collection of records. There is really no adequate way to determine the total number of records online in any of these large collections and in any event, the numbers would increase almost daily.


Here is a screenshot of the directory for the online collections from the New York State Archives.


Don't be cheated out of finding the information you are seeking by making superficial, general name searches of all these records. Although name searches are helpful, it is always a better to carefully search each collection of records that could potentially contain information about your ancestors.

For example, my own Tanner ancestors moved from Rhode Island to New York in the late 1700s. A good example of the need to study the records carefully is the analysis done by my daughter on TheAncestorFiles blog in a series of articles. These articles include the following two articles:
It is important, in the context of looking at records for New York State online, to remember that many of those records are in the U.S. National Archives. For example, here is a screenshot of the New York currently existing National Archives Records Projects just for New York State records.


Many of these ongoing projects involve the digitization of the records and eventually, these records will make their way online. In addition, many of the National Archive's records are already online in the larger online collections on FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and Fold3.com

It is always important to remember that digitization projects are ongoing and there are huge collections of records that are not yet digitized and must be researched in person. For example, here is a description of the records in the New York City, Department of Records
Established in 1977, the Department of Records and Information Services preserves and provides public access to historical and contemporary records and information about New York City government through the Municipal Archives, the Municipal Library, and the Visitor Center. The Municipal Records Management Division operates records storage facilities in two locations with a combined capacity of 700,000 cubic feet, and provides records management services to fifty City agencies, ten courts, and the five district attorneys’ offices. Records services include scheduling, off-site storage and retrieval, and overall guidance on management of records in all media. The Grants Administration Unit assists mayoral agencies in obtaining and managing grants from the New York State Archives’ Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund.
The potential number of records left to be digitized and made available online is truly astronomical.

No research into the online records of New York State should ignore the NYGenWeb website.


This series will continue. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Voice Recognition Software and the Busy Genealogist


 It has been some time since I returned to the topic of voice recognition software. My interest in the subject began, as I have written about previously when I attended the Seattle World's Fair in 1962. I saw a demonstration by IBM of a rudimentary form of voice recognition using an IBM Selectric typewriter. Since that time, I have been fascinated with the possibility of being able to talk and have my words transcribed automatically.

Subsequently, I have spent quite a bit of money and even more time. using almost every voice recognition program that was developed for personal computers. Hmm.  I haven't use the words "personal computer" for a long time. The results have consistently been extremely frustrating. most of the time, over the years, the programs have been cranky and hard to use. The results required more editing time than it would've taken to type out the product in the first place. But, I kept hoping that someone would finally develop a program that would solve the problem of writing constantly.

A few years ago, voice recognition finally began to function at a usable level. There were still serious problems but they became manageable. The main limitation on the implementation of voice recognition software was the speed of the ability of the computers to compute. As computers became more sophisticated and faster, voice recognition became a possibility. Finally, I began to use voice recognition or VR more regularly. My use of the program focused on Nuance software's Dragon NaturallySpeaking program. The Macintosh version was called Dragon Dictate. I use the versions of the program for several years, however, I finally balked at the price of the upgrade.

I tried to use the built-in voice-recognition function provided by Apple. But it was like stepping back into the past and having to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the more primitive voice recognition software. Ultimately, the number of posts, presentations, and syllabuses that I had committed to do became overwhelming and I bit the bullet and upgraded my existing Dragon Dictate program, Now called Nuance Dragon Professional Individual for Mac.

Despite the price, it is nice to get back to dictating posts. It looks like the time saved is worth the money. The newest program, version 6, seems to work flawlessly. The editing functions work well in the program understands a very high percentage of everything that I say. Of course, I have to speak clearly but that is something easily remedied.

So, the results of this will likely be an even greater quantity of output. I hope you can stand it.

Is Genealogical DNA Testing a Fad?


In two of my recent posts, I have referred to DNA testing as a "fad" and received some negative feedback. A fad is defined as "an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object's qualities; a craze." Of course, we have no idea whether or not DNA testing at the level and it is now being promoted will be short-lived. At RootsTech recently, there were long lines of people purchasing a discounted DNA test from Ancestry.com. Both before during and subsequent to RootsTech,  I have been talking to quite a few people who are having serious conceptual questions about DNA testing. The questions include understanding the results, applying the results to their own personal genealogical research, and comparing the results of more than one DNA test.

On the other hand, there are those serious genealogical researchers who employ DNA testing to specific genealogical objectives. They not only understand the need for a DNA test but also understand the results when they are received. In this case, DNA testing could hardly be considered to be a fad. In addition, the experience genealogists are encouraged by the fact that the pool of potential comparables is increased dramatically as people take DNA tests. This is a very good reason for promoting a wider use of DNA testing.

DNA testing is not cheap and there appears to be little motivation for individuals to have more than one DNA test. But when there are multiple DNA tests of the same individual, comparison of the tests creates another level of concern. There seems to be no common analytical basis for determining relationships among the various testing companies. The fact, that we receive a nebulous percentage of genetic relationship to a rather undefined group of people around the world is not particularly helpful for directing specific research. However, when DNA testing is applied to relationships within the first four or five generations, the results can be very helpful in establishing unknown relationships and clarifying previously difficult problems.

For example, if a person discovers that his or her parent is not a biological parent, then this obviously opens up an entire area of investigation. DNA testing has the potential of reconstructing basic family relationships which were unknown prior to the test. As many of the disclaimers used by the DNA testing companies state rather clearly, the effect of these tests on immediate family relationships can be unsettling and in some cases devastating. In short, in many cases, taking a DNA test may produce extremely disruptive results.

For the past year or so, DNA testing has been an almost constant topic of conversation. For those with families that do not follow traditional pedigree lines, DNA testing has opened up a new world of a potential resolution to previously unresolvable family relationships. But for those who fall into the general pattern of family relationships, the DNA test merely confirms what was already known.

If the pool of comparables increases dramatically, as it probably will, then in the future, DNA testing will become a standard adjunct to the initial creation of a family tree for any individual. But I would suggest that as the use of DNA testing by genealogists changes and matures, it will begin to move out above the realm of something that could be considered a "fad" and become merely another tool for use in the course of doing genealogical research.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Varied Results Expected from Multiple Genealogical DNA Tests


During the past year or so, I have been reading and studying about genealogical DNA testing. Of course, I do not have degrees in any related subjects, but as a trial attorney, I have spent my adult life learning enough about a variety of subjects to represent clients in serious litigation issues from airplane crashes to complex real estate transactions. So I am not an expert. Were I still practicing law and faced with a court case involving the DNA issues, I would advise my client to hire an expert witness. But in order to prepare for a trial, I would have to understand enough about the subject to ask intelligent questions and perhaps discredit an opposing party's DNA expert. I think I have gotten to that point in my understanding. I feel that I have a basic understanding of both the strengths and weaknesses of genealogical DNA testing and if confronted with a complex issue, I can find documentation and explanations for possible issues that might arise.

One disturbing issue with genealogical DNA testing is the mixed results obtained by genealogical researchers when the results of tests from different DNA testing companies are compared. It is not necessarily an issue with the accuracy of the testing processes, but it does raise some serious concerns about the methodology and reporting processes between the different companies. Were I faced with a litigation issue based on a claim from an opposing party involving the results of DNA test, I would immediate request that another test be taken from a different company and I would expect that the results would be different enough to greatly weaken any claims being made on the basis of only one test from one company.

Genealogical research involves the process of examining historical records for information about ancestral origins. Relationships are discovered through existing documentation pertaining to deceased ancestors. Much of the time, the available documentation is insufficient to be conclusive. The goal of genealogical research, in the main part, is to adequately identify ancestral lines with sufficient documentation to convince ourselves and others of the validity of the conclusions reached. Where there is insufficient documentation, conflicting opinions as to the identity and validity of the ancestral conclusions are common and expected. It is also not uncommon for genealogical researchers to have greatly varying degrees of expertise in both in researching records and in reaching valid conclusions from the existing records. In addition, the larger, worldwide, genealogical community contains a great number of adherents to genealogy and family history that have only a very casual understanding of the historical research nature of the subject.

By adding DNA testing to the mix of genealogical research, we are in a real sense, increasing the level of complexity beyond the capability of most of the casual participants. Not only is the pursuit of genealogy complex, but by adding in another, perhaps an even more complex process of determining relationships, we have surpassed the interest and ability of nearly everyone. By making DNA testing a popular and faddish practice, we have imposed yet another level of obfustication and confusion on the larger genealogical community.

My basis for making these conclusions comes from the increasing number of commentaries on the results obtained from multiple DNA tests taken by the same individual. I am not going to list all of the online commentaries about the difficulties experienced in interpreting and comparing multiple DNA tests, but one excellent analysis comparing three tests of the same individual is the following:

Comparing admixture results from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA by Debbie Kennett. 

I would also point you to my friend, Louis Kessler's recent article that I previously cited.

My MyHeritage DNA Results Have Come In by Louis Kessler

These two posts are representative samples of the confusion and uncertainty that can arise from multiple tests. 

The tragedy of this situation is that I am now getting involved questions from patrons at the Brigham Young University Family History Library concerning their DNA tests and the conflicts between multiple tests. My own opinion is that given the results of multiple tests and the lack of corresponding support from traditional genealogical research, there is little basis for relying on DNA tests. 

Now, it is important to distinguish between the generally nebulous results from a general DNA test and the ability of these tests, coupled with extensive online family trees to find "relatives" in the first four or five generations of a particular pedigree. DNA tests have been now long used by courts to establish paternity and other close family relationships. This is a given fact. But there is no support for extending the same degree of confidence in close familial relationships out to the greater extrapolations made from the general population. As is very well pointed out by Debbie Kennett, the number of tested subjects for comparison are still way too small to provide any degree of accuracy. But when DNA results are incorporated into an extensive online family tree program, there is a rather larger probability that the relationships, inclusive in four or five generations, are reasonably accurate. 

This situation might change as the number of people taking DNA tests and at the same time having accurate and documented pedigrees increases, but presently we are not at that level of certainty.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New York Public Library Online -- Part Two

The New York Public Library main building during late stage construction in 1908, the lion statues not yet installed at the entrance
When you begin research in a large library, you should not expect that you will find what you are looking for in a neat, tidy pile somewhere in the library. Library collections are cataloged primarily by subject and then physically stored in the library by their catalog entries. Unfortunately, when items are cataloged, items with similar topics and interest to researchers may end up in different parts of the library. For example, you may be looking for records about your ancestor in Pennsylvania. The library may have cataloged land and property records under a primary entry for Pennsylvania and then under land and property. But a record, such as a military record for your ancestor may have been cataloged under military records and then Pennsylvania and be in a completely different part of the library. In addition, neither the land and property records nor the military records are going to be cataloged as "genealogy" records.

In searching online for digital records, you face the same type of problems you face when working in person in a library. The digital items you are trying to find my have been tagged in ways that you would not normally associate with genealogical research.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has an extensive online collection of digital records and maps.


The NYPL digital collections are divided into Divisions, Collections, and individual items. You can search for keywords (catalog entries) but if that is all that you do, you will likely miss important items. The online collections include articles and databases, prints and photographs, an archives portal and the digital collections. Here is screenshot of the Digital Collections webpage.


For example, in the Digital Collections page, I searched for my surname, Tanner, and found 286 items.


But the only way to tell if any of these items were of interest was to scroll down through all of the items and look at any that seemed interesting. In some cases, I had to do further Google searches online to figure out what it was that I found. I have to admit that I did find some things of interest, but none that had anything to do with my particular Tanner family line. More general searches will bring up many more items. I might note that out of the 286 items found, 117 were in the public domain.

One important aid to doing research online or physically in a library is to have several specific research goals. You may conclude that searching the library is not a valuable use of your time, but this conclusion would be a mistake. Everyone has a multitude of potential surnames to research and continued researching will almost always find important information often in the form of items that are quite unexpected.

For genealogists, the most interesting and helpful digital collections may be the large map collection. Many of these maps are available online. Here is a description of the map collection:
The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division is one of the world’s premier map collections in terms of size, scope, unique holdings, diversity and intensity of use. Established in 1898, our holdings include more than 433,000 sheet maps and 20,000 books and atlases published between the 15th and 21st centuries. The collections range from the global to the local scale and support the learning and research needs of a wide variety of users.
One useful tool developed by the library is the NYPL Map Warper. Here is the description of this useful tool:
The NYPL Map Warper is a tool for digitally aligning ("rectifying") historical maps from the NYPL's collections to match today's precise maps. Visitors can browse already rectified maps or assist the NYPL by aligning a map. Play the video above to tour the site and learn how to rectify a map yourself.
The process is fair detailed and complex, but the results allow you to overlay an old map over a new, satellite view and see where the old map's features line up with the satellite view. Here is a sample.


The Archive Portal also has an extensive collection of online digitized pages. Here is a screenshot.


Again, searching for my surname, I found the following in the Archives Portal.


In my case, I have had a lot of relatives who lived in New York State and I could search for more records.

Here is the first part of this series

http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/03/new-york-public-library-online-part-one.html

PI Day and Genealogy


Genealogy and the world need to recognize an undeclared holiday. Today is Pi Day or the 3rd month and the 14th day, so 3/14. Do I really have to explain this to anyone? Well, just in case here is Wikipedia on Pi:
The number π is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, commonly approximated as 3.14159. It has been represented by the Greek letter "π" since the mid-18th century, though it is also sometimes spelled out as "pi" (/paɪ/).
 Hence, 3/14 is Pi Day. What do you do on Pi Day? Eat pie, of course. Now that I have explained the obvious, is there really some genealogical connection? Not really. But doesn't everything I say or do somehow get around to genealogy? Here is the history of Pi Day again from Wikipedia:
The earliest known official or large-scale celebration of Pi Day was organized by Larry Shaw in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium, where Shaw worked as a physicist, with staff and public marching around one of its circular spaces, then consuming fruit pies. The Exploratorium continues to hold Pi Day celebrations. 
On March 12, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution (HRES 224), recognizing March 14, 2009 as National Pi Day. For Pi Day 2010, Google presented a Google Doodle celebrating the holiday, with the word Google laid over images of circles and pi symbols. 
The entire month of March 2014 (3/14) was observed by some as "Pi Month." In the year 2015, Pi Day had special significance on 3/14/15 (mm/dd/yy date format) at 9:26:53 a.m. and also at p.m., with the date and time representing the first 10 digits of π. Pi Day of 2016 was also significant because its mm/dd/yy represents pi rounded to the first five digits.
Two historic events that occurred on March 14th include President Abraham Lincoln's assassination by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater and when the Titanic hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Not your grandmother's genealogy company: MyHeritage in 2016

MyHeritage in 2016 from MyHeritage on Vimeo.

This will probably give you an entirely different view of life at MyHeritage.com. What else can I say? Think Ancestry in Lehi, Utah and FamilySearch in Salt Lake City.

My DNA: Eskimos, Gypsies, India and the Middle East


What do Eskimos, Gypsies, India and the Middle East all have in common? They are some of the percentage results obtained from DNA tests recently. I started thinking about this subject when I read about the results from Louis Kessler's DNA test results from MyHeritage.com. Louis compares a test he previously took from FamilyTreeDNA with the one he recently took from MyHeritage in a blog post entitled, "My MyHeritage DNA Results Have Come In." My wife also received her results from a MyHeritage DNA test. All three of us have done extremely extensive "paper" genealogy research tied to sources and worked on for years. Louis' results come up with a small 1% match to Eskimo/Inuit. My own DNA shows 1.2% South Asian (India and surrounding area) and my wife's DNA test shows a small percentage of Middle Eastern.

I have some basis for speculating about the origin of my South Asian connection to possible Romani (Gypsy) ancestors, but neither Louis nor my wife have any idea where their small percentage connections may have originated. I recommend reading Louis' blog post. He gives an in depth and perceptive analysis of the differences between the two DNA test results that he has so far.

I have a surfeit of relatives. I commonly meet people who share a common ancestor with me. I have multiple surname books showing my cousins and ancestors back eight and nine or more generations. I have neighbors who are my cousins. I also realize that many people do not have such an extensive collection of relatives. So what was the point in my taking a DNA test? I did it ultimately because I write this blog. It is that simple.

DNA has become a promoted fad among genealogists and would-be genealogists around the world. I certainly do not want to diminish the impact that a DNA test can have on any one individual. The greatest impact comes from tests that clarify 1st and 2nd generation relationships. With each step backwards, the relationships become more tenuous and more open to statistical error or random noise. My small Southern Asian relationship could possibly be a random match where a more complete analysis might show that there was no real connection. What are the chances that 1.2% of my DNA randomly matches some arbitrary selection of Southern Asian DNA? The match could be a construct of the way the matches are selected rather than a valid indication of an ancestral relationship. This issue is highlighted by a statement made by Louis Kessler in his blog. I quote:
The second inaccuracy in ethnicity percentage is because a person does not get the same amount of DNA at each ancestral level from each ancestor. For example, the normal case is having 32 great-great-great-grandparents. Therefore, each should average just over 3% of your ethnicity makeup. So if two of your g3-grandparents were from Sweden, you’d expect that 6% of your ethnicity report would be from Sweden. But DNA does not pass down evenly. The amount of DNA passed down from each g3-grandparent can vary greatly. You might not get any from some and could get as much as 6% or even 8% from others.
 Last night I was talking with a couple who had almost every conceivable challenging family relationship issues: unidentified parents, foster children, adopted individuals etc. The wife has already taken two or three DNA tests, but none of the tests yet give enough information to resolve or even identify some of the mystery areas of her family's past. The basic reason for this lack of resolution is the paucity of matching DNA tests from other related individuals. In my case, for example, ideally, I should find some other relatives who are "descended" from the suspected Romani connection to confirm that the match was not just a random correspondence.  But the way the DNA testing procedures and results are structured, discovering these connections would be a monumental task.

For example, my DNA test from MyHeritage shows me matched to a cousin who is categorized as a "1st cousin once removed - 2nd cousin twice removed." This is based on the following DNA Match quality:
Shared DNA 2.4% (175.6 cM)
Shared segments 8
Largest segment 35.8 cM
How am I related to this person? This person's family tree has 487 people and I have 46 Smart Matches. But without even looking at the Smart Matches, I can tell by the person's surname how we are probably related. In looking closely at the Smart Matches, this assumed relationship is confirmed. I would consider this person to be a 3rd cousin. However, the information contained in this person's family tree on MyHeritage.com is simply duplicative of what is found in the surname books that have been published, so I have no incentive to contact this person or collaborate. In fact, so far, I have no real incentive to contact any of my DNA matches, but they probably do have an incentive to try and contact me. 

Additionally, none of the DNA matches yet share the family line that contains the potential Romani connection. 

My wife and I are both going to take the Ancestry.com DNA test and, of course, this whole process of discussing and analyzing the DNA test results is far from over.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Let Your Computer Do What It Does Best -- A Cautionary Tale for Genealogists


In a fight between you and your computer, your computer will always win. You cannot treat a computer like a spoiled or wilful child, it is a machine and it will always react consistently with its programming. You can rant and rave all you want, but it will just continue to do what it is told almost instantly. So back off and think rather than keep punching keys. Computers are terminally stupid but they are also highly complex devices.



The first thing to remember is that failure to save your work and power outages are not necessarily the fault of the computer or its programmers. As a user, you have the primary responsibility for maintaining your own work and backing up as necessary.

Now, what happens when we add in the internet? In effect, we are adding in the quirks and capabilities of an entire world of computers. Much of the time, the solution to a computer problem involves turning off the computer. If the software programs stop running or lock up, there are ways to get out of that situation. Turning off the machine or restarting is one of the most effective. But remember, if you do this, you will almost always lose whatever work was in progress.

If what I am writing is gibberish to you, then you need the most important ingredients of all: education and experience. What would happen to you if you had never driven a car before and you suddenly jumped in a got onto a major freeway? You would likely not stay alive very long. What makes you think you can operate a computer in a highly complex environment such as the internet without training and experience?

Of course, you can take the position that you are too old or too whatever to learn, but that is a cop out and sort of like my grandmother who refused to fly in an airplane but would take long bus rides across the country to visit her family. What about physical disabilities? You can easily find online examples of people who operate computers with severe difficulties such as blindness and paralysis. The problem is wanting to learn and overcoming a fear of failure.

I find that the greatest obstacles to using a computer are keyboarding skills and mouse or trackpad skills. I use a trackpad almost exclusively but it took me years to move from using a mouse exclusively to using a trackpad. Now, I can use both but prefer the trackpad. This is a physically learned skill and it took me a long time to learn and lots of practice. By the way, there are a number of free and commercially available programs that effectively teach typing or keyboarding skills.

What does a computer do best? That is a monumentally difficult question to completely answer. As genealogists, we are heavily involved in data and data is what computers are all about. So you would think that there would be a lot of our genealogical tasks that could be accomplished more effectively and quickly by a computer and you would be right. But we still have people copying things off the internet, for example, by hand onto paper. Hmm. Why would I do that? What purpose does it serve? When this does happen and I ask why they are copying something by hand, I usually get some excuse about remembering the information better or being more comfortable with handwriting.

Personally, I find writing by hand to be excruciating. But I can copy or reference by link almost anything I find almost instantaneously. If I were forced to write this blog and everything else by hand, I would do something else with my time.

Let me walk through a short research project and demonstrate what I mean by letting the computer do what it does best. Let's suppose I wanted to know where my great-grandfather was buried. There are lots of ways I could begin, but let's suppose I am going to let the computer and the internet do what they do best. Here is what I would do.

I would type exactly the following search terms into the address bar in my Chrome browser:

"Henry Martin Tanner" Arizona burial death

Less than half a second later, I would have the answer to my question.


Here is what I would get from the first item in the search list.


There are probably a hundred different ways to find this same information, but through practice and repetition, I have learned to extract the essence of my questions, put them into some keywords and type them into the computer in a matter of seconds.

How about another example. Let's suppose that I could not open a document on my computer. I looked at the document and it said it was a .svg type document. I type the words "define .svg" into my computer and here is what I get.


Now, I may need to find a program that will open the document, but that is merely another search on the internet.

Regularly, I watch genealogists struggle through their research when the answers they are looking for are just a few keystrokes away. Now, back to the keyboarding or typing issue. Where would I find one of these free typing tutor programs? Hmm. I made need to hunt-and-peck letters but I can search for "typing tutor free" will get a long list of programs to choose from.


New York Public Library Online -- Part One


The New York Public Library (NYPL) is one of the largest repositories of genealogical information in the United States as well as being one of the nation's largest libraries and is often listed as the fourth largest library in the country. The NYPL also has 92 separate locations spread all over The Bronx, Manhatten, and Long Island. All of the very large libraries will have millions of books and other items that could assist your genealogical research. A common mistake made by researchers is assuming that because they do not have any relatives from the physical area served by a large library that visiting the library would be a waste of time. It is true that some libraries maintain regional or local collections, but the really large libraries are used by researchers from all over the world. Here is a brief description of the NYPL from its website.
Serving more than 17 million patrons a year, and millions more online, the Library holds more than 51 million items, from books, e-books, and DVDs to renowned research collections used by scholars from around the world. Housed in the iconic 42nd Street library and three other research centers, NYPL’s historical collections hold such treasures as Columbus’s 1493 letter announcing his discovery of the New World, George Washington’s original Farewell Address, and John Coltrane’s handwritten score of “Lover Man.”
The reality is that once a library gets this large, it will take a great deal of time and effort to determine what is and what is not in the library's vast collections. Although the NYPL's online collections are significant, there is no substitute for traveling to the library and doing research onsite. For this reason alone, genealogists should never conclude that they have "looked everywhere" for information about their ancestors.

For a genealogist who does not live in or near New York City, the library's online collections are a valuable and, in many cases, accessible resource. As is the case with most libraries in the United States, you need to either live in the library district, county or state where the library is located or pay a fee for a library card as a non-resident. Access to the large university libraries, for example, are sometimes limited to registered researchers, students, staff or professors. Many of the online resources of the NYPL are limited to those who have a library card. Likewise, the NYPL's collections are available to residents of the City and of New York State. Here are the requirements for a visiting researcher:
Researchers Visiting the Library from Outside of New York State 
Apply
  • If you do not live, work, attend school or pay property tax in New York state and are visiting the library and seeking temporary cardholder privileges, apply online and validate and pick up your card in person. Privileges will be granted for a period of 3 days or 3 months, depending on the length of your stay.
  • You may also visit any library location and fill out a paper application form.
The NYPL catalog is always available online and anyone can search the catalog, but as is the case with using library resources in person, you may need a library card or researcher's permission or be physically present in the library to access some or even all of the online offerings.

Fortunately for the genealogical researcher, the NYPL has extensive and accessible digital collections.


An interesting an innovative new feature is the "Spotlight on the Public Domain." Out of the 708,450 items online, apparently, about 180,000 of those items are considered to be in the "public domain." Those items that are not in the public domain are very likely subject to enforceable copyright claims and permission from the copyright holder would be necessary for their use. However, there is no need for genealogists to copy entire copyright protected documents. They can be used for research and then cited as sources. However, those documents and items in the public domain can be freely used by anyone for any purpose.


This approach by the NYPL is rather an exception to the general rule for online collections. Many libraries and archives fail to make a distinction between the items in their collections that are validly subject to copyright and those that are in the public domain, leaving the decision about the use of the items entirely up to the researcher.

Stay tuned for more.