Visiting the New York State Archives

I recently returned from a trip to the New York State Archives.  For those not familiar with an archive, they are the place where a genealogist can find all sorts of wonderful information that is not available online and probably never will be.  For my situation, I was looking for court records from 1827 about a family dispute.

When you arrive at an archive they ask you to register and put all personal items in a locker.  Folders, notebooks and pens are not allowed but you can usually take in laptops or phones and cameras to photograph items, which is what I did.  Pencils and paper are supplied.

I spent two days going through five boxes of folders and found gold.

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The allusive death information I  had looked for everywhere (probate, vital records, cemeteries and church records) was not to be found… until I opened one of the court files.  There among all of the many pages was a  paragraph telling of his demise.  Robert M. Steel, the man of this hunt, died at sea in 1813.  He was a ships Captain sailing to France.  The ship set sail from New York harbor and was never heard from again.  After a year of not hearing from him, they declared him deceased and probated his will.  A family feud over money, produced these court records and his estate was not settled until 1848, thirty-five years after his death.  His wife and two daughters had died prior to the estate settlement, so never inherited their portion (although I read they did receive interest).

I took 250 photos of records and found other information as well.  Robert Steel had a fourth daughter I did not know about.  His wife’s father was married 4 times, not the two wives I knew of.   I’m still going through the papers and hope to discover other nuggets of gold as I go along.  It was a trip well worth the time.

When we finished at the New York State Archives, we drove over to the Connecticut State Archives.  There I was hunting for records in their holdings from 1650-1690.  Slim pickings, but I did find a few records on Edward Scott of Wethersfield.  Another stop at the Connecticut Historical Society, had some letters from that period with Edward’s name in them.  Writing from the 17th century is very difficult to read, so again, I took photos which can be blown up to better see the writing.  What a thrill to hold something that is 350 years old.


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