Before running right out to search for your family it is helpful to understand a few things. If you know the cemetery you are looking for your trip will be easier. If the cemetery is still active, you can contact the caretaker for a map of your family plot. The care taker can access the internment records and help you to find all of your family, those you know are there and those you may not yet have known about. If you happen to find your self looking on a weekend when the care taker is not available you can look for stone, but keep in mind that older stones are often difficult to read. Weather wears away at the stone and smooths out the engraving. Flat stones are often over grown with grass and eventually sink deep into the ground and may not be accessible. Even standing stones will begin to sink into the ground and often crack and break with age. Be sure to pack some supplies to take rubbing. This can help you to read fading names and dates. A large, clean sheet of white paper and some rubbing charcoal can help you read the previously illegible, in many cases. Often grass and vines threaten to ruin the stone. This is easily fixed with a pocket knife, a little patience and a tooth brush to clean off the stones. Dates on the stones may not be accurate. This may surprise you. Once would think that of all things the head stone should be correct, but head stones are often purchased after the burial, some times years after. It was not uncommon for children to purchase head stone for their parents only after the last parent dies. Dates and time were easily confused in a past where dates were not well understood or not as important to recall as they are today.
The next thing to keep in mind, before writing letters to churches, of knocking on church secretary doors, or stomping off to search diligently through cemeteries, is roughly when your family member lived and died. You will save hours of frustration knowing this so you can skip the cemeteries or churches that were not yet opened when your family member passed. Understand your family religion. Catholics, when available were buried in Catholic cemeteries, while none Catholics had their own burial places. Indigents were often buried in plots attached to or owned by the county poor house. Immigrants were often segregated by nationality. This is less common now, though you may hear people talk about the Irish section or the Italian section of a cemetery. In some counties the German immigrants set up their own German heritage cemeteries.
When possible you can write to county historians, ( E-mail ) and to local church offices to inquire into records they may have on your families. You will need to provide some information about yourself and your connection to the family name you are researching. Some places will charge a fee to look at and copy records for you, others will not. Churches will not let you look for records your self. County records are are a matter of public record. wills are filed in the county seat, some listing for court proceedings and other miscellaneous information can be found in the county clerk / county records office, including land records. These you will have to search for your self or pay someone to do it for you but the information you can discover is valuable to a genealogist. In early years adoption records were also kept on file in the county clerks office and, in some cases may be kept by the county historian. Adoption records were officially sealed in the 1930's to protect stigmatization of mother and child. At the end of WWII all states had officially closed adoption records unless an adopted adult child petition the court to open them. Even then access to parent information is not always provided. During the 1800's children were abandoned, orphan, or removed from indigent homes by the county welfare office and placed in poor houses, orphanages or sent out west on orphan trains. Some of these records can be found on line with much searching, or recorded in the county offices of the adoptive parents. Private adoptions were also common, between family members or friends or neighbors and were handled by lawyers and filed with the county.
Some years ago I gathered information from each of the New York state counties regarding churches and cemeteries. I had thought to write a book to help burgeoning genealogist save some time. I never published the book, but I will publish the information I have gathered here in hopes that it will be helpful to you in some way.
New York state currently has 62 counties. Not all counties responded to the survey. but it is still helpful to know when the county was founded and what county it came from . If you are looking for someone who lived in that area before it became the current county you will want to look to the parent county for the records. For example, say you are looking for someone who lived in Schuyler county town of Hector in 1850. The county records for Schuyler county are housed in the Watkins Glen county building but in 1850 there was no Schuyler county. Hector was still part of Tompkins county. Here we go:
ALBANY: County seat: Albany. Countyclerk@albanycounty.com. Albany county was formed on 11/1/1683. It was an original county. The first Catholic church was founded in Albany in 1797. Saint Mary's church located at 10 Lodge st. Albany NY 12207. This was the first Catholic church established in New York outside of New York City. The first baptism and the first marriage occurred in 1832. Calvery Cemetery in Glenmont was the first Catholic cemetery established in Albany county in 1856. This is still an active cemetery and records are available on site. If you want to try and write for records the address is 481 Route 9 W. Glenmont NY 12077.
ALLEGANY: County Seat:Belmont formed April 7,1806. Allegany originally belonged to Genessee county. County historian: firstname.lastname@example.org. The first Catholic church in Allegany County New York was St. Joseph's, founded in 1846. The founding fathers of theis church were John and Peter Coyle,Timothy Cuthburt and Terrence Brady. Prior to St. Josephs Catholics met in area homes and received their sacraments from visiting Priests. The first Catholic cemetery was established before the church on the same site. The first burial was took place on 12/25/1838. St. Joseph's church was burned to the ground in 1904 and rebuilt on the same site. Some cemetery records are available through the office of the county historian.
The Bronx is named in memory of the areas first European settler, the Swede, Jonas Bronck. The earliest settlement in The Bronx took place along the Harlem River in 1639, in what is now Mott Haven. The Bronx originally was part of Westchester County. Bronx county was founded April 19,1912. There is no email contact for a county historian available for the Bronx. Surveys sent to Bronx historian were never returned. If I gain more information I will provide it in a later post.
BROOME: County seat: Binghamton founded March 25,1806. County Historian : email@example.com. The first Catholic church in Binghamton was St. Patrick's founded in 1838 through the hard work of the 5 Catholic families then residing in Binghamton. The priest assigned to this area traveled from Philadelphia to perform rites. Between his visits layman performed readings and held prayer services in local homes. The history of this church and the efforts to build it are very interesting and can be found on line at
http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nybroome/brrchis.htm. The historian from Broome county did not return the survey I had sent him. I will post additional information as it is discovered in future posts.
CATTERAUGUS: County Seat:Little Valley founded on March 11,1808. Formerly this was part of Genessee county. County Historian: firstname.lastname@example.org . The first Catholic Church was founded in 1862, St. Patrick's church was built in Salemanca close to the Indian reservation. The first services were conducted by a visiting priest once a month.
CAYUGA: County seat: Auburn founded 3/8/1799. County Historian email@example.com
CHAUTAUQUA: County Seat Mayville, founded 3/11/1808 . County Historian firstname.lastname@example.org
CHEMUNG: County Seat: Elmira NY founded March 29,1836 from Tioga county. County Historian - email@example.com. First Catholic church, St. Peter and Paul founded in 1849. Prior to the founding of the Catholic church Catholics attended mass in protestant churches, in private homes and at the court house.
CHENANGO: County seat: Norwich formed March 15,1798 from Tioga and Herkimer counties. County Historian: Countyhistorian@co.chenango.ny.us First Catholic church St. Patrick's 1859. This church burned to the ground in 1888 and was rebuilt as St. Paul's.
CLINTON: county seat Plattsburg founded March 4,1788 from Washington County. County Historian:firstname.lastname@example.org First catholic church established St. Josephs 1843.
COLUMBIA: County Seat: Hudson founded 4/4/1786. County Historian email@example.com
CORTLAND: County Seat: Cortland founded 4/8/1808 . County Historian firstname.lastname@example.org
DELAWARE: County seat Delhi formed March 10,1797 from Ulster and Otsego counties. County Historian unavailable
DUTCHESS: County seat-Poughkeepsie formed Nov. 1, 1683. First Catholic church St. Peter's formed 11/24/1837. County Historian email@example.com
ERIE: County seat Buffalo, formed 4/2/1821 from Niagara County. First Catholic church- The Lamb of God founded 1832. County Historian unavailable.
ESSEX: County Seat Elizabeth Town founded March 1,1799
FRANKLIN: County Seat: Malone. First catholic church founded 11/7/1834
FULTON: County Seat Johnstown founded 4/18/1838. The first Catholic church was St. Joseph's founded 1856. First Catholic cemeteries St. Mary's and St. Patrick's, both have been abandoned.
GENESSEE: County Seat: Batavia founded 1802 from Ontario county.
GREENE: County Seat: Catskill, founded 3/25/1800 from Albany and Ulster counties. First Catholic church St. Patrick's 1853.
HAMILTON:County Seat Lake Pleasant founded 4/12/1816
HERKIMER: County Seat: Herkimer formed 1791 from Montgomery county.
JEFFERSON: County seat: Watertown founded 3/25/1805
KINGS: County seat Brooklyn founded 11/1/1683
LEWIS: County Seat Lowville formed 1805, formerly part of Oneida county. First Catholic church St. Vincent Depaul erected 1843.
LIVINGSTON: county Seat Geneseo formed in 1821 from Ontario county. First Catholic congregation 1854, first catholic church built, St. Michael's 1889. First Catholic cemetery St. Agnes in Avon 1854.
MADISON: County seat Wampsville founded 3/21/1806.
MONROE:County seat: Rochester founded 2/23/1821
MONTGOMERY: County seat Fonda founded 3/12/1772.
NASSAU: County seat Mineola founded 4/27/1898
New York (Manhatten): County seat New York founded in 1683
NIAGARA: County seat Lockport founded 3/11/1808
ONEIDA: County seat: Utica founded 3/15/1798.
ONONDAGA: County seat Syracuse, founded 3/5/1794
ONTARIO: County seat Canandaigua founded 1789
ORANGE: County seat Goshen, founded 11/1/1683.
ORLEANS: County seat Albion founded 4/15/1825 from Genessee County. First catholic church St. Mary's 1850. Also the first Catholic cemetery.
OSWEGO: County seat Oswego founded 3/1/1816
OTSEGO: County seat Coopers town founded 2/16/1791
PUTNAM: County seat Carmel founded in 6/12/1812.
QUEENS: County seat Jamaica founded in 1683.
RENSSELAER: County Seat Troy founded 1791 from Albany County (1683). First Catholic church St. Peter's 1830. First Catholic cemetery- St. Mary's 1843.
RICHMOND: County Seat Staten Island founded 1683. First catholic church St. Mark's 1839
ROCKLAND:County seat New City founded 2/7/1791.
SARATOGA: county seat Ballston Spa founded 2/7/1791.
SCHENECTADY: County seat Schenectady founded 3/7/1809
SCHOHARIE: County seat Schoharie founded 4/6/1795.
SCHUYLER: County Seat Watkins Glen NY founded 1854 from Tompkins. First Catholic church established in 1846. oldest catholic cemetery St. Mary's 1873.
SENECA: County seat Waterloo founded 3/24/1804. First Catholic church Holy Cross 1849 , first Catholic cemetery established in 1849.
ST. LAWRENCE: County Seat Canton founded 1802 from Herkimer and Clinton Counties. The first Catholic church - St. Mary's 1825, cemetery attached to church.
STEUBEN :County Seat Bath founded 3/18/1796
SUFFOLK:County seat Riverhead founded 11/1/1683.
SULLIVAN: County Seat Monticello founded 1807 from ulster and Orange counties.
TIOGA: County seat Owego founded 2/16/1791.
TOMPKINS: County seat Ithaca founded 4/7/1817.
ULSTER: County seat Kingston, founded 1683.
WARREN: Country seat Lake George founded 3/12/1813.
WASHINGTON: County seat Hudson Falls founded 3/12/1772
WAYNE: County seat; Lyons founded April 11,1823. First Catholic church St. John's 1851.
WESTCHESTER: County seat White plains founded 11/1/1683.
WYOMING: County seat Warsaw, founded 1841 from Genessee county.First Catholic cemetery St. Mary's 1846. Cemetery on site.
YATES: County seat PennYan founded 2/5/1823.