Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Locally grown (family history, that is!)

In my area, I see a lot of effort going toward the support of local farmers, and buying locally-grown and raised food is a good idea for our economy.  The same could be said for doing genealogy research.  We all know that not everything we need (or want!) for researching our family history can be found on the world wide web, but how many of us have actually made the leap from easily-accessed online record collections to  find out what is available in the local area where our ancestors lived?

I live in the small village of Castleton-on-Hudson, New York.  As the name implies, the village sits on the Hudson River, and much of its history has been driven by events on, in and around the river itself.  The population of the village in 2012 was about 1500, and it has not fluctuated much over the years.  Many families have been here for generations, but others have left the area in search of jobs and opportunities, like so many other communities in New York.  Anyone who is seeking information about their ancestors or relatives who once resided in Castleton will be pleased to know there is a little-known collection of information on local families housed in the village hall on Main Street.

The collection, consisting of hundreds of manila folders, each dedicated to a local family name, was begun by village resident, local historian and talented artist Harry Hamm in the 1960's.  Mr. Hamm clipped newspaper items and obituaries, collected pictures, and conducted oral interviews which he transcribed.  Any of these can be found among the treasure trove of papers this collections contains.  The folders also contain hand-drawn pedigree charts and maps showing where cemetery plots and family homesteads can be located.

I don't have any family ties to Castleton myself, but I looked through a folder of information about the former owners of my house, the Morgan family.  The folder contained obituaries and gravestone photos of the family members, and a hand-written pedigree chart which told exactly where in Ireland the family patriarch, Dan Morgan, had come from!  (in my line of work, this is a find that is roughly comparable to striking a gold mine!) Also included was a picture of the last inhabitants of the house taken in my living room!

Mr. Hamm generously donated his collection to the Castleton Village Hall, and helped to manage it until his illness and death in 2002.  Since then, volunteer genealogists have maintained and added to the collection, starting with Maria Rieben from 2000-2010.  The collection is now under the care of volunteer genealogist Sue Kishlicky, who devotes several hours a week toward updating and organizing the many folders and pieces of paper involved.

Anyone with roots in the southern Rensselaer County village of Castleton will find something in this outstanding collection to assist them in their family history!  This valuable assortment of documents cannot be accessed from the internet, but you can email Sue at angelone@nycap.rr.com for more information.  Remember, she is a volunteer, giving back to the genealogical community, so make sure any requests are as detailed as possible, allow plenty of time for a response, and always offer to pay for copies and postage!

In the coming months, I will try to seek out and profile as many of these local collections as I can.  If you have ancestors in northeastern New York, stay tuned!