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Finding New York Ancestors—The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society

Sat, 09/28/2019 - 09:04

Do you have New York ancestors? The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society offers a vast collection of resources to help you find who and what you may be looking for.

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&B) was founded 150 years ago when an inspired group of men and women realized the importance of documenting and saving materials of New York families. Not only did they document and save the materials—they also published them for others to find.

The society works closely with the New York Public Library, which hosts their paper collections, and it is also a FamilySearch affiliate library.

The Record—Published by the NYG&B

Most of the family documents the society has collected are housed at the New York Public Library, but online access helps researchers use The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society Record, often called The Record, from anywhere in the world. This collection of online records has an index that makes it searchable, and the collection dates back to when the society was founded.

The Record includes a lot of variety—religious records, cemetery abstracts, and other New York records. The updated Record has been published each quarter since 1870 and also contains peer-reviewed genealogies, abstracts of a variety of New York state property records, New York state vital records, marriage and criminal records, book reviews, and other important information for people researching New York families.

From the history and genealogy of the Thatcher family, from New York. An illustration of Queen Camel Church in Somerset England, where Rev. Peter Thatcher served as Vicar in 1574. What Is at the New York Public Library, and What Is Online?

The manuscript collections* that the society has added to the New York Public Library contain some of the richest sources for genealogical research. The localities, family, and subject files hold important materials for people tracing New York ancestors.

Because the society has been around for so long, the paper documents collected here are sometimes not found anywhere else—including original family documents, compiled research notes, cemetery transcriptions, abstracts of local records, and other materials. Some of the materials at the New York Public Library are not yet digitized, but that process is coming along.

Online access to society collections has many perks. Researchers can have access to The Record from anywhere, as well as to a vast collection of religious records from around the state of New York.

Around 100 years ago, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society started an initiative to contact religious organizations across the state to find the location and condition of their records. Many records have been transcribed and are now available to researchers. The collection (which began as the Vosburgh collection) is still being added to and continues to grow.

Online access* contains digitized versions of record surveys, a finding aid, and other items to help narrow down where a particular record set might be found.

*For access to paper and digital records from the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, some fees may apply. Visit the society’s website to learn more about resources available to members and free resources offered by the society.

Joshua Taylor, President of The NYG&B, “Came Home.”

World-renowned genealogist D. Joshua Taylor is currently the president of the society and has been since 2016. He has a few branches of his family who lived in New York for many generations. The Record became a go-to source for him, and it was one of the first resources he came across in his family research. “In a way, it felt like I was coming to my ‘genealogical home,’” Taylor said. He also has been a host of the popular Genealogy Roadshow and became a member of the society in the early 2000s.

A Key to New York Research

The resources offered by the New York Geographical and Biological Society have been an essential key for many people not only to access records, but also to learn how to research their ancestors from New York. Many New York records are not yet online. With the help of the society, researchers can find key links to their ancestors and learn what is available.

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society has many volunteers and thousands of members. Learn more about the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society online, or call them to find out how they can help you discover your New York story.

As a FamilySearch affiliate library, the society helps extend the reach of FamilySearch genealogical services to local patrons. Genealogy and family history centers interested in the FamilySearch affiliate library program can email to learn more.

County Records Yield Great Sources for Your Family Tree

Thu, 09/26/2019 - 14:40

County records can be a great resource for researching your family tree. Learn what you can do to discover the treasure trove of information found in county records.

What Can I Learn from County Records?

County records, often referred to as county courthouse records or courthouse records, can help prove family relationships and where family members lived. You can also find occupations and other important information in county records.

Ancestors’ names can be found in court records when they have served as defendants, plaintiffs, witnesses, or jurors. Ancestor names may also appear in records about the following:

  • Probate and estates
  • Naturalization
  • Divorce
  • Mortgage and lien
  • Adoption
  • Guardianship
  • Licenses
  • Appointment to public offices
  • Taxes
  • Civil and criminal lawsuits
  • Property disputes
  • Crime
  • Election results
How to Start Searching County Records

Indexed county records, as well as digitized images of these records, can be found online at sites such as or  While both have many statewide databases, features more statewide databases where you can filter by county. has more individual county databases.

One place you can find county records is in the FamilySearch Catalog. To get to the catalog, go to, and click Search in the toolbar at the top of the page. Then select Catalog from the submenu at the top of the new screen.

On the catalog search page, type the name of the place you wish to search, and then click Search. Look through the list of results for official county records of all types.

You can also see if any records can be found in state archives, public and university libraries, and local genealogical and historical societies. However, not every court record can be found online. Sometimes, the best option is to go to the courthouse yourself. Here are some suggestions for how to find the records you need at courthouses.

Have a Clear Objective

Because each county can organize its records differently and business is still conducted in courthouses, searching county records can be confusing and overwhelming. Knowing what specific information you hope to find will help you navigate these records more successfully.

Visit the County Courthouse Website

Look at your county courthouse website before you go. The website may have a directory for old records or online information that can help you plan your trip to the courthouse. A phone call to the courthouse can also clear up any questions you have about records before you go. Determine where the various types of records may be accessed—some records may be stored in an auxiliary facility.

Go to the Courthouse

Once you have exhausted online information, local libraries, interlibrary loans, and phone calls, it is still wise to visit the courthouse because you may find great evidence that wasn’t indexed online.

Look at Surrounding Counties

Counties often change boundaries over the years, so you may be looking in the wrong place. Check records of parent and neighboring counties when you come up empty in the county you think your family was from. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries can show what counties existed over the course of time and how the boundaries changed.  

Explore Other Resources

Some records may not be in courthouses because of fires and other disasters. Thankfully, researchers and genealogists have done a good job of preserving records.

To find information about where to locate the records you need, the FamilySearch Wiki is an excellent source, as is State archives and state libraries are also a must. Many have cooperated with filming by FamilySearch or State and United States district court records may also help you locate information pertinent to a county where your ancestors lived.

Start Looking for County Records

County records are a fun and interesting way to search for your family history. The records serve as great follow-up sources for family members. Spending a few minutes online can prove to be rewarding and can be a fun journey to learn something new.

Topics from this article and some of its material came from Laurie Castillo’s class, “Determining What Records Still Exist: A Real-Life Application of Burned County Research,” at the 2019 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

The BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy is held annually and offers classes for genealogists and others wanting to learn about their ancestors. Keep an eye on the BYU conference page for announcements about next year’s schedule and when registration opens.

Laurie Castillo is VP of Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group and a Former VP/Board Member of the Utah Genealogical Association. She is also a BYU FHL consultant and teacher of 27+ years for webinars as well as a professional researcher and writer of 30+ years. She’s presented at RootsTech, the BYU Family History Conference, BYU Education Week, and FGS/UGA. Her interests include history, mystery, geography, and genetics.

Nessie the Loch Ness Monster

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 18:00

The Loch Ness Monster is one of Scotland’s best-known legends. You likely know the story of the fabled creature. There have been reported sightings and rumors about its existence for generations.

What Is the Loch Ness Monster? 

Loch Ness is a freshwater loch, or sea inlet, in the Scottish Highlands. For centuries there have been rumors of a large creature called the Loch Ness Monster that dwells in the waters there. With multiple sightings but no concrete evidence, there has been much debate over its existence. The most likely theory today is that the Loch Ness Monster is a giant eel (if it exists at all).

Affectionately referred to as Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster has inspired search parties, books, studies, tourist attractions, movies, and more.

Loch Ness Monster Sightings

The first recording of a monster in the waters near Loch Ness appeared in the 6th century in Life of St. Columbia. In the account, an Irish monk found locals burying a man who they claimed was dragged underwater in the River Ness and killed by a beast.

More recently, newspaper stories of the Loch Ness Monster started appearing in the 1930s. One article published in 1934 reported a sighting as early as the 1870s. The best-known article appeared in 1933 in the Inverness Courier. The article explored a report from Aldie Mackay, who saw what she described as a beast rolling in the water.

After that, letters and photos began streaming in. Other published sightings described the Loch Ness Monster as a dragon, monster fish, sea serpent, creature, or whale. All reports had one thing in common: something large was in the waters of Loch Ness. 

Since then, numerous reports and photos have claimed to provide evidence of Nessie.

Loch Ness Monster Pictures

If you know anything about the Loch Ness Monster, chances are you’ve seen a hazy, black-and-white photo floating around. The most famous photo depicts a large creature with a long, curved neck poking out of rippling water. 

This picture appeared in the Daily Mail in 1934. Robert Wilson, a London gynecologist, reportedly took the photo but refused to be associated with it, leading to it being named the “surgeon’s photograph.”

For years, the surgeon’s photo was used as proof that the Loch Ness Monster exists. Analysis of the photo later led most to believe that it was a hoax. Based on the size of the water ripples and surrounding objects, it’s estimated that the object in the photo is only two or three feet long. Since then, it’s been claimed the picture was a practical joke.

Other photos or videos have appeared over the years but have either garnered little attention or were debunked.

Is the Loch Ness Monster Real?

Because there is no concrete evidence that the Loch Ness Monster exists, many claim that it is a hoax. That being said, there are still many who believe Nessie is out there. 

For years, people have debated the credibility of reports and photos. For example, the 6th-century account from an Irish monk was recorded 100 years after it happened and could have been misreported. As another example, a 2014 Apple Maps image shows a large mass in the water. However, many believe the mass to be ripples from the wake of a boat or wood.

A DNA survey of the lake in 2018 revealed no large fish or reptiles. However, the professors conducting the survey did find a lot of eel DNA. The researchers conceded that it is possible that the Loch Ness Monster was, in fact, a very large eel.

What about you? Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster? 

Legends and Traditions

While the Loch Ness Monster may or may not be a hoax, the story has lived on for generations. There’s something special about how stories such as these can influence people over hundreds of years. What was possibly something as mundane as an eel has turned into a cultural phenomenon that has impacted countless lives.

Does your family have any legends, traditions, or stories that have been passed down over the years? How have they influenced your family or you personally? Record your stories with the Memories app or on to preserve and share them with your family.