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Brief History

The following important events in New York history affected political boundaries, record-keeping, and family movements.

  • 1609: Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch, established Holland's claim to the New York region.
  • 1624–1626: The Dutch West India Company established established the colony of New Netherland. Its chief settlements were at New Amsterdam, on the lower tip of Manhattan Island, and at Fort Orange, the present site of Albany.
  • 1629: The Dutch introduced the patroonship (manorial) system, which established a landholding aristocracy in the Hudson Valley.
  • 1664: New Netherland surrendered to the English, who separated it into the colonies of New York and New Jersey.
  • 1672: New York employed Indians to carry mail from city to Albany because of the extreme hardships involved.
  • 1673–1674: The Dutch briefly reconquered New York. 1674
  • 1683: The twelve original counties were formed (Albany, Cornwall [Maine], Dukes [Massachusetts], Dutchess, Kings, New York, Queens, Orange, Richmond, Suffolk, Ulster, and Westchester).
  • 1700: Tuscarora tribe of North Carolina migrated to New York and joined the Iroquois Confederacy.
  • 1731: The boundary between New York and Connecticut was settled.
  • 1768: Fort Stanwick Treaty, the Iroquois Confederacy ceded 1/2 its land to U.S.
  • 1769: After long conflicts, the present border with New Jersey was agreed upon. The line was surveyed and marked in 1774.
  • 1773: The New York-Massachusetts boundary dispute was finally resolved.
  • 1776: New York declared independence from Britain and Vermont declared its independence from New York. At the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1783, the British evacuated Loyalists to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the British West Indies.
  • 1786: The Hartford Treaty gave Massachusetts the title to the land in western New York west of the "Preemption Line" (a line running north and south between Seneca and Keuka Lakes) but reserved political governance to New York.
  • 1788: ( July 26,)New York ratified the U.S. Constitution and became the eleventh state of the Union.
  • 1791: New York's eastern boundary was finally determined when Vermont was admitted as a state.
  • 1796: The state capital moved from New York City to Albany.
  • 1825: The Erie Canal (between Albany and the Great Lakes) was completed, stimulating settlement of the midwestern U.S. By 1842, rail lines connected Albany and Buffalo.
  • 1839–1845: The Anti-Rent War led to the end of the manorial system.
  • 1898: Brooklyn (Kings) established 1683, New York (Manhattan) established 1683, Queens established 1683, and Staten Island (Richmond) established 1683 were incorporated as boroughs of New York City.
  • 1898: Over 300,000 men were involved in the Spanish-American War which was fought mainly in Cuba and the Philippines.
  • 1914: Bronx was incorporated as the fifth borough of New York City.
  • 1917–1918: More than 26 million men from the United States ages 18 through 45 registered with the Selective Service. World War I over 4.7 million American men and women served during the war.
  • 1930's: The Great Depression closed many factories and mills. Many small farms were abandoned, and many families moved to cities.
  • 1940–1945: Over 50.6 million men ages 18 to 65 registered with the Selective Service. Over 16.3 million American men and women served in the armed forces during World War II.
  • 1950–1953: Over 5.7 million American men and women served in the Korean War.
  • 1950's–1960's The building of interstate highways made it easier for people to move long distances.
  • 1964–1972: Over 8.7 million American men and women served in the Vietnam War.

Historical Content

Histories are great sources of genealogical information. Many contain biographical information about individuals who lived in the area, including:

  • Parents' names
  • Maiden names of women
  • Place of birth, death, or marriage
  • Occupation
  • Migration
  • Military service
  • Descendants

Local Histories

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. Published histories of towns, counties, and states usually contain accounts of families. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of pioneers, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide important clues for locating your ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search. Local histories are extensively collected by the Family History Library, public and university libraries, and state and local historical societies. The United States Research "History" page cites nationwide bibliographies of local histories which include histories of New York.

  • A Bibliography of New York State Communities is an excellent bibliography of New York local histories. [1]

New York has officially appointed town and county historians who gather material about their locality and its people. They often have original and transcribed cemetery records, newspaper clippings, church records, and local histories. For their addresses, see The County Historians Association of New York State, 1991 Directory of New York State County and Municipal Historians, [2]

  • A Bibliography of American County Histories [3] [4]
  • United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress [5][6]

State Histories Useful to Genealogists

Good genealogists strive to understand the life and times of their ancestors. In this sense, any history is useful. But certain kinds of state, county, and local histories, especially older histories published between 1845 and 1945, often include biographical sketches of prominent individuals. The sketches usually tend toward the laudatory, but may include some genealogical details. If these histories are indexed or alphabetical, check for an ancestor's name. Some examples for the State of New York are:

  • A History of New York State, 1957 is probably the best one-volume history of New York. [7]

Some published collections of historical documents essential for early New York genealogical research include:

  • Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Procured in Holland, England and France [8]Biographical sketches drawn from official records of governors, courts, and petitions.
  • Documentary History of the State of New York. [9]Biographical information drawn from official records of governors, courts, and petitions.
  • Calendar of Dutch (and English) Historical Manuscripts in the Office of Secretary of State [10]Many of the documents described in this inventory were destroyed or damaged in the 1911 capital fire.

The Draper Manuscript Collection

The Draper Manuscript Collection is a significant regional source that includes records of New York. 

Draper Manuscript Collection The collection consists of nearly 500 volumes of manuscripts, papers, and books collected by Lyman Copeland Draper about the history of the trans-Allegheny West, a region including the western areas of the Carolinas and Virginia, all the Ohio River Valley, and part of the upper Mississippi Valley from the 1740s to 1830. The collection is divided into 50 series. Some series are titled by geographic area, some by the names of prominent frontier leaders, and some by topic. The bulk of the collection consists of notes from interviews, questionnaires, and letters gathered during Draper’s extensive travels and research to learn about frontier history. Personal papers are much more rare than government or military records.
The collection includes many items of a genealogical or biographical nature. For an inventory and partial indexes, see:

Guide to the Draper Manuscripts This guide gives series and volume descriptions for some of the Draper manuscripts. There are several indexes at the end of the book, including a name and subject index, an additional personal data index, and a list of references to Illinois.
Index to Lyman C. Draper Manuscripts. The name index gives the series and volume numbers, but is not complete.

United States History

The following are only a few of the many sources that are available:

  • The Almanac of American History, [11][12]This provides brief historical essays and chronological descriptions of thousands of key events in United States history.
  • Dictionary of American History, Revised ed [13] [14]This includes historical sketches on various topics in U.S. history, such as wars, people, laws, and organizations. A snippet view is available at Google books.
  • Webster's Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and Biographical Survey and Compendium [15][16][17]This includes a history, some maps, tables, and other historical information.

To find more books and articles about New York 's history use the Internet Google search for phases like "New York history." Family History Library Catalog Surname Search lists many more histories under topics like:


Web Sites


  1. Harold Nestler, compiler, A Bibliography of New York State Communities, Third Edition. (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Incorporated, 1990; Family History Library book 974.7 H23nh 1990).
  2. The County Historians Association of New York State, 1991 Directory of New York State County and Municipal Historians Fifth Edition. (Albany, New York: The New York State Education Department, Division of Research and Collections, 1991; Family History Library book 974.7 N24v 1991).
  3. Filby, P. William. A Bibliography of American County Histories. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1985. (FHL book 973 H23bi)
  4. Worldcat
  5. Kaminkow, Marion J. United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress. 5 vols. Baltimore: Magna Charta Book, 1975-76. (FHL book 973 A3ka.)
  6. Worldcat
  7. David M. Ellis, et al., A History of New York State, 1957, revised (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1983; Family History Library book 974.7 H2e). One of the best multi-volume histories is Alexander C. Flick, ed., The History of the State of New York, Ten Volumes. (1933; reprint, Port Washington, New York: Ira J. Friedman Incorporated, 1962; Family History Library book .7974 H2f).
  8. Brodhead, John Romeyn, compiler; O'Callaghan, Edmund Bailey, and Berthold Fernow, translator and Editor. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Procured in Holland, England and France, by John Romeyn Brodhead, Esquire, Agent. 15 Volumes. Albany, New York: Weed, Parsons, and Co., 1853–1887. (Family History Library book 974.7 H2d; films 824380–91.)
  9. Documentary History of the State of New York. Four Volumes in eight parts. Albany, New York: Weed, Parson and Company, 1849–51 (octavo edition); 1850–51 (quarto edition). (FHL book 974.7 H2o; films 986504–07; fiche 6051121; subject index on film 017137 item 10.)
  10. O'Callaghan, Edmund Bailey, ed. Calendar of Dutch (and English) Historical Manuscripts in the Office of Secretary of State, Albany, New York, Two Volumes. 1865–1866. Reprint, Ridgewood, New Jersey: The Gregg Press, 1968. (Family History Library book 974.7 A3c; fiche 6051113.)
  11. Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M. The Almanac of American History. Greenwich, Conn.: Bison Books, 1983. (FHL book 973 H2alm)
  12. Worldcat
  13. Dictionary of American History, Revised ed., 8 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976. (FHL book 973 H2ad.)
  14. Worldcat
  15. Webster's Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and Biographical Survey and Compendium. Springfield, Mass.: G&C Merriam, 1971. (FHL book 973 H2v)
  16. Limited view at Google Books
  17. Worldcat
  18. Writings on American History By American Historical Association, Library of Congress, United States National Historical Publications Commission, Published by KTO Press, 1921 FHL book 973 H23w
  19. Worldcat


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