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  • Early Vital Records of New York State: the Work of Fred Q. Bowman

    Marian S. Henry

    I. Introduction

    As any genealogical researcher dealing with New York State can attest, early records tend to be scattered and not widely available.  It is therefore with great pleasure that I introduce in this column the work of Fred Q. Bowman.  During the last twenty years Mr. Bowman has compiled a number of volumes of vital records extracted from local newspapers, as well as a volume of early land records.  The books described in this article are: Landholders of Northeastern New York, 1739-1802; 10,000 Vital Records of Western New York, 1809-1850; 10,000 Vital Records of Central New York, 1813-1850; 10,000 Vital Records of Eastern New York, 1777-1834; 8,000 More Vital Records of Eastern New York State, 1804-1850; Directory to Collections of New York Vital Records, 1726-1989, with Rare Gazetteer (with co-author Thomas J. Lynch); and 7,000 Hudson-Mohawk Valley, (NY) Vital Records, 1808-1850 (also with Thomas J. Lynch).  An additional volume on the 1855 census of Greene County is not included here. A review published in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record notes: “Since New York had virtually no public vital records in this period, newspaper notices can be of immense value to genealogists, and the importance of Mr. Bowman’s books is obvious.”[1]

    II. Landholders of Northeastern New York

    Published in 1983, Landholders of Northeastern New York, 1739-1802[2] covers early records for Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Warren, and Washington counties.  From 1739 to 1772 the entire region was part of Albany County.  In 1772 a portion of the region was split out and became Charlotte County.  In 1784, in a fit of patriotic fervor, the name was changed to Washington County.  In 1788 Clinton County (containing present-day Franklin, Clinton, and Essex counties) was split from Washington (which also contained present-day Warren County).  In 1799 Essex County was separated.  The scope of the book ends in 1802.  The organization of the book is described in its introduction.

    This directory consists of two parts.  The first part, pages 3-12, identifies approximately 600 original grantees whose land awards, 1739 through 1775, lay within northeastern New York.  The second part, pages 13-209, identifies approximately 9,000 persons whose land transactions were completed between 1764 and 1802 within this same region.
    Appendix A, pages 211-13, serves three purposes.  It furnishes the dates of organization of all the towns formed in northeastern New York prior to 1803.  It indicates the population of the towns of this region as of 1790 and 1800 and it lists by counties the numbers of deeds and mortgage agreements filed in this region from 1772 through 1802 inclusive.

    Appendix B discusses the incompleteness in deed filings in northeastern New York within the time period of concern.  It provides a list of approximately 250 landholders whose names do not appear elsewhere in the book.

    Part 2, the major segment of this report, reflects the fact that at contract time relatively large numbers of participants lived in northeastern New York.  However, residence towns are identified in all the settled regions of early-day New York as well as in ten additional states, the Northwest Territory, Upper and Lower Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, and Germany.  Hundreds of family relationships are defined or implied.  Frequently, occupations of participants are posted.  Occasionally, probate matters are highlighted.  Source citations are given for all transactions reported.

    Land transactions are entered alphabetically by surname and numbered sequentially.  Note that there is frequently a considerable lapse between the signing of a land contract and when it was filed.  In contrast, mortgage agreements were filed promptly.  Bowman hypothesizes, “Presumably the new land owners, once they had pocketed their deeds, felt relatively secure.  In contrast, the money-lenders, financially unsatisfied at the outset, were eager to file or to have their agents file their mortgage agreements.”[3]   

    Each entry in the book begins with a number. If the number is underlined, it means that it is the “key” entry for the transaction, containing references to all the related entries.  The sequence of each entry, taken from the original record, is: date, principal grantor and his/her location, location of the land in question, related entries of grantee(s) and any co-grantors, and finally, the code for the source book. The location of the land in question is underlined.  Land deeds for Charlotte and Albany counties were filed in Washington County.  Prior to 1772 (formation of Washington County) all records for land north of Kingston were filed in Albany. Bowman notes that “those relatively few [records held by Albany] pertaining to northeastern New York, difficult to cull from the massive set, have not been here pursued.”[4]

    It is not necessary to begin with the key entry.  Any related entry will lead to it.  As an example, I randomly chose entry 1337, which reads:

    1337. 6/20/01 gor Chadwick, Eunice.  See 1339

    This entry states that Eunice Chadwick was involved in a land transaction in the role of grantor (“gor”) on June 20, 1801, and further information is contained in entry 1339.

    1339. 6/20/01 gor Chadwick, John (w. Eunice); Kingsbury, WAS. See 4843.

    Entry 1339 is not underlined and so is not the key entry.  From this entry we learn that Eunice Chadwick was the wife of John Chadwick of Kingsbury in Washington County (“WAS”).  John Chadwick was also involved in this land transaction as a grantor and more information is in entry 4843.

    4843 6/20/01 gor Mann, Solomon (w. Abigail); Cambridge, WAS; ---, WAS: co-gors 1337, 1339, 2475, 2479; gee 1323  (F:242)

    The underlined number tells us that this is the key entry.  Solomon Mann and his wife Abigail of Cambridge, Washington County, are the principal grantors (because they are listed in the key entry).  The land in question is underlined (“---, WAS”) and is an unspecified location in Washington County.  The co-grantors (“co-gors”) are to be found in entries 1337, 1339, 2475, and 2479 while the grantee (“gee”) is in entry 1323.  The source of the information is Book F, page 242.

    2475 6/20/01 gor Fisher, Elizabeth.  See 2479.

    2479 6/20/01 gor Fisher, John W. (w. Elizabeth); Cambridge, WAS. See 4843.

    1323 6/20/01 gee Center, John S.; Cambridge, WAS. See 4843.

    The supporting entries give us the names of the additional grantors, John W. Fisher of Cambridge, Washington County, and Elizabeth, his wife.  The grantee is John S. Center, also of Cambridge.

    Mortgage records are handled similarly.  The mortgagor is listed in the key entry and mortgagee in the linked entry.

    1915 3/20/02 mor Davis, James; ----, ----; Willsborough, ESS; mee 5777. (A:83)

    5777 3/20/02 mee Platt, Nathaniel; ---, ---; See 1915.

    We see from these entries that land in Willsborough, Essex County (“ESS”) was mortgaged on March 20, 1802, as recorded in Book A, page 83.  The mortgagor (“mor”) was James Davis, and the mortgagee (“mee”) was Nathaniel Platt. The entries do not identify the residences of either man.

    Many entries state or imply family relationships such as the following examples relating to the estate of John Murray, deceased.

    5244 12/1/97 --- Murray, John, dec’d. See 4721.

    4721 12/1/97 mor McNeal, Sarah; Argyle, WAS; Queensbury, WAS; co-mees 2265, and 5164.  Co-mortgagees are “executor and executrix of the … will … of John Murray, deceased.” (B:258)

    2265 12/1/97 mee Eddy, John; ---, ---, See 4721.

    5164 12/1/97 mee Morgan, Anstis; ---, ---, See 4721.

    From these entries someone researching the family of this John Murray would learn that he died before December 1, 1797, and that on that day a mortgage was executed on land in Queensbury, Washington County.  The mortgagor was Sarah McNeal of Argyle, Washington County.  Co-mortgagees were John Eddy and Anstis Morgan, no residence listed, the executor and executrix of John Murray’s estate.  The transaction is to be found in Book B, page 258.

    III. The “10,000” Trilogy – Western, Central, and Eastern New York

    We turn now to the “10,000” trilogy.  Each volume contains over 10,000 vital records.  In turn they treat western (published in 1985), central (1986), and eastern (1987) regions of the state.  The introduction to the “eastern” volume specifies the organization of the counties within the trilogy.

    “This is the final volume in a three-volume series of vital records drawn from early New York newspapers.  The first volume, 10,000 Vital Records of Western New York, 1809-1850,[5] covered the section of the state from Geneva westward.  The second volume, 10,000 Vital Records of Central New York, 1813-1850,[6] covered the area lying between Geneva and Utica.  This third volume [10,000 Vital Records of Eastern New York, 1777-1834[7] ] focuses on the interior county of Otsego and on the 300-mile north-strip comprising the eastern-most counties of Linton, Essex, Saratoga, Rensselaer, Albany, Columbia, and “Old Dutchess,” which latter, prior to 1812, included the territory of present-day Putnam.  Records in this volume are drawn from the marriage and death columns of newspapers published prior to 1835 in each of the above-named counties.  Birth announcements were not published in these early papers.  Fortunately, many of the marriage and death notices made mention of birth years, birthplaces, and parents’ names.”

    The entries in each volume are alphabetical by surname and also numbered sequentially.  Each entry ends with a code for the source.  The first number specifies the newspaper, while the second identifies the month and day of the newspaper article.  Usually the year of publication in the newspaper is the same as the year of the event.  The following tables list these newspapers and the towns in which they were published, along with the dates searched.  These dates do not necessarily correspond to the full dates of publication of each newspaper.  Collections extant are sometimes incomplete and each volume has an arbitrary date range.  The information in these tables should guide researchers to volumes with a location and time period that matches their needs.

    Table I: Newspaper Sources for 10,000 Vital Records of Western New York, 1809-1850







    Republican Advocate




    Steuben Farmers Advocate




    Geneva Gazette*




    Jamestown Journal


    *As Geneva lies on the border between central and western New York, vital records that appeared in the Geneva Gazette between 1828 and 1850 are included in 10,000 Vital Records of Central New York, 1813-1850.

    Table II: Newspaper Sources for 10,000 Vital Records of Central New York, 1813-1850







    Onondaga Gazette




    Broome County Republican (scattered issues)




    Chittenango Herald




    Corning Weekly Journal (scattered issues)




    Elmira Republican




    Geneva Gazette**




    Norwich Journal (scattered issues)




    Oxford Gazette



    Chenango Republican



    Oxford Republican



    Oxford Times




    Utica Western Recorder



    Utica Daily Gazette


    ** Records from 1809-1829 in this newspaper are in the Western NY volume.

    Table III: Newspaper Sources for 10,000 Vital Records of Eastern New York, 1777-1834







    Daily Albany Argus*



    Ballston Spa

    Ballston Spa Gazette




    Otsego Herald



    Freemen’s Journal



    Essex County

    Essex County Times (E’town)



    Essex Republican (Essex)



    Keeseville Argus



    Keeseville Herald




    New York Packet




    The Balance



    The Northern Whig




    Plattsburgh Republican




    Poughkeepsie Journal




    Lansingburgh Gazette



    Troy Budget


    * For vital records from other Dutchess County newspapers between 1778 and 1825, see Collections of the Dutchess County Historical Society, Volume 4 (available in reprint from the Society in Poughkeepsie).
    * *"For Albany-area newspaper records prior to 1829 see Joseph Gavit, American Deaths and Marriages, 1784-1829 (microfilm, 1976?) available at the State Library, Albany, and at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society’s library in New York City."

    Each volume of the “10,000" trilogy includes an all-name index (except for ministers) in which reference is made to the entry number.  There is also an appendix of ministers who officiated at the weddings.  This list of names is nearly as long as the body of the book, since most ministers are credited with performing only one or two of the marriages.  Marriages are entered alphabetically by groom’s name only — the bride’s name is found in the index.  Thus, on page 19 of the volume of Eastern New York records:

    “662. Belden, Lawrence m 4/15/23 Louisa Gregory in Dover; Rev. C. P. Wilson (8-4/16).” 

    The “8” refers to the Poughkeepsie Journal (see above table) and “4/16” is the date of the notice in the newspaper.  No year is given, so we are to assume that the notice appeared on the day after the wedding.  In the index, on page 330, is the bride’s entry “Gregory, Louisa 662.”

    Then, as now, newspapers often focused on the unusual as the following entries from the eastern volume illustrate.

    4025. Hay, Mary, 65, youngest dau of David, Esq, late of Fifeshire, Scotland, d 9/19/24 in Poughkeepsie, NY (David arrived in this country “about ninety years ago”.  He was son of Robert Hay of the noble fam of Hays in Fifeshire.  His mother was a descendant of the Earl of Murray, Regent of Scotland during the minority of James the Sixth.) (8-10/6)

    4018. Hawley, Stiles drowned 1/18/30 in the Kaskaakia River in Illinois (born in CT and visited NY state as agent of the American Sunday School Union) (“In the winter” he left Springfield, IL for Macon Co.  Later only his horse was found.) (1-5/13).

    4754. Johnson, Robert (or “the person calling himself that”) d 1/5/07 in the Albany gaol – committed for an attempt to rob the house of Mr. Pye on the Albany road (R. J. died from a wound inflicted by Mr. Pye, “after being himself shot thro’ the body.  Mr. Pie is said to be out of danger.”) (9-1/13).

    6203. Nelson, Alva m Laura Wells in Woodbury, VT (This entry includes a long statement of the tangled family relationships existing among the bride, groom, and the two witnesses “yet there was no blood relation between the bride and bridegroom”) (8-12/24/28) [Bowman’s parenthetical]

    7220. Richards, Gustavus U. of NYC m 7/31/33 Electra (sic) B. Wilder, dau of S. V. S. Wilder, Esq. of Bolton, NY in B; Rev.? W. Chickering (newspaper account contains details concerning unusual wedding festivities) (7-8/31)

    III. More Eastern Records

    Because of the large number of records available for eastern counties, the last volume of the “10,000" trilogy only included records up to 1834.  In 1991 Bowman published 8,000 More Vital Records of Eastern New York State, 1804-1850.[8]  The format of this volume is slightly different.  Related names, such as the name of a bride, are included in the body of the work instead of an index.  An individual may not be listed under his own name, but may be included in the listing of a relative.  The author suggests reading ALL entries for the surname in question. His example is a search for the wife of the Rev. David Brown.  There is no listing for David Brown.  However, a search of all the entries under Brown yields a death notice for “BROWN, Mary B., wf of Rev. David of Lockport …”

    The newspapers consulted in this work are listed in Table IV.  With the exception of the Daily Albany Argus, this work contains records from a new set of eastern newspapers. 

    Table IV: Newspaper sources for 8000 More Vital Records of Eastern New York State, 1804-1850







    St. Lawrence Gazette



    Northern Lights



    St. Lawrence Republican




    Franklin Telegraph



    Frontier Palladium




    Daily Albany Argus




    Kinderhook Sentinel







    Long Islander*



    Sag Harbor

    Suffolk Gazette



    The Corrector


     * "Collections from this newspaper 1839-1864 (Marian F. Stevens, compiler) and 1865 -1881 (Robert L. Simpson, compiler) are available at the Huntington (NY) Historical Society Library."

    IV. The Directory

    In 1995, working with co-author Thomas J. Lynch, Bowman published his Directory to Collections of New York Vital Records, 1726-1989, with Rare Gazetteer.[9]   The Directory is divided into three sections.  Part one contains collections of newspaper-based vital records and “in which of five large genealogical libraries each of these collections is available.”  These libraries are the New York State Library, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society Library, the Brooklyn History Library, the Loudonville, New York, Family History Library and the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution Library.   Part two is a gazetteer of 6,710 cities, villages, and hamlets showing where they are in present day towns.  Part three lists the formation and origins of the sixty-two present counties of New York.

    V. Hudson-Mohawk Valley Records

    The most recent book considered here is 7,000 Hudson-Mohawk Valley, (NY), Vital Records, 1808-1850,[10] also co-authored by Thomas Lynch.  The listings are arranged alphabetically by surname.  As with 8,000 More Vital Records of Eastern New York State, secondary entries are included in the main body of the book and refer to the main entry.  Each main entry consists of an abstract of a newspaper account of a marriage or death.  Here, for example, are two death notices:

    BENNETT, Thomas, Esq., 79, d (date not given) at his home in Rome, a Revolutionary War soldier, born in Western Fairfield Co., Conn., 18 March 1761 (served during the War from age 16 in the militia, the continental army and the “Coast Guards”; after the War lived in Montgomery County, NY until a few years before his death.  Joined the Congregational Church in Conn. in 1782 and the Presbyterian Church in NY) (1-11/10/40)

    BUTTS, Amy (Mrs.), 86, mother of Deacon Daniel, d 11/11/48 in Rome (one of the earliest settlers of Rome and among the first members of the Congregational Church – she was the only survivor of the original 34 members of that church) (1-11/17)

    Many of the entries mention family connections and events, such as the following:

    CONINE, Mary, 86, relict of Peter, Jr. (dau. of Sybrant G. Van Schaick and sister of Col. Goshen Van Schaick, deceased, of the City of Albany) d 3/24/35 at Coxsackie at the home of her son-in-law, John L. Bronk, Esq. (6-3/31).

    HATCH, Sibyl, 49, wf of Sylvanus, d 9/6/38 suddenly at the home of her husband in Rome (her first husband, Thomas Alrich, has died “a few years since”) (1-9/15).

    Not all of the events occurred in New York State.  The Albany newspapers especially reported distant events.

    BALL, Flamen, Esq., counselor at law and Master of Chancery, d (date not given) in Spartenburg District, South Carolina (a short and painful illness) (6-3/27/16).

    DE BLAISEL, Le Marquis, Chamberlain to the Emporer [sic] of Austria, m 4/17/26 Maria Matilad Bingham, dau. of Hon. William Bingham of the United States (6-6/13)

    Most newspapers at this time did not print birth announcements.  However, death notices of children, such as this one for Azalia Hart, can provide approximate birth dates, and may be the only existing record of the child’s existence.

    HART, Azalia Ernesteen, 1, dau. of William and Rachael Eliza, d 3/25/50 in Rochester (Mrs. Hart was formerly of Fort Plain) (4-3/28).

    As noted previously, marriages in the “10,000" trilogy described above were entered by the surname of the groom.  In this volume, an entry of the bride’s name is in the main body of the book, not the index.  Thus, information about the marriage of Sarah Felter and Richard Clark appears as follows.

    CLARK, Richard M. of NYC m 4/7/42 Sarah E. Felter, dau. of Theron, Esq. of Newburgh, in N.; Rev Charles A. Bleek (9-4/9)

    As shown below, searching for the name of the bride will direct the reader to the groom’s entry.

    FELTER, Sarah, - see CLARK, Richard M.

    The following table lists the towns and newspapers from which these records were abstracted. 

    Table V: Newspaper Sources for 7,000 Hudson-Mohawk Valley, (NY), Vital Records, 1808-1850







    Rome Citizen




    Herkimer Herald



    Bunker Hill



    Little Falls

    Mohawk Courier



    Fort Plain

    Montgomery Phoenix and Fort Plain Advertiser



    West Troy (in Watervliet)

    West Troy Advocate and Watervliet Advertiser




    Albany Advertiser



    Albany Gazette



    Daily Albany Argus




    American Eagle




    Ulster Telegraph




    Newburgh Journal




    Putnam Democrat and Democrat Courier




    Westchester Republican



    Highland Democrat



    Sing Sing (in Ossining)

    Hudson River Chronicle


    VI. Access to the Books

    They are available at the Family History Library in book form; they are not available in rentable microfilm form.  When I checked in mid-June of 2003, used copies of most of the books were available for sale by  Check your local library.

    [1] New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 176 (1987), p. 176.

    [2] Fred Q. Bowman, Landholders of Northeastern New York, 1739-1802, Baltimore : Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983.

    [3] Fred Q. Bowman, Landholders of Northeastern New York, 1739-1802, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983, Appendix B.

    [4] Fred Q. Bowman, Landholders of Northeastern New York, 1739-1802, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983, Introduction.

    [5] Fred Q. Bowman, 10,000 Vital Records of Western New York, 1809-1850, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985.

    [6] Fred Q. Bowman, 10,000 Vital Records of Central New York, 1813-1850, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986.

    [7] Fred Q. Bowman, 10,000 Vital Records of Eastern New York, 1777-1834, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987.

    [8] Fred Q. Bowman, 8000 More Vital Records of Eastern New York State, 1804-1850, Rhinebeck, N.Y., Kinship, 1991.

    [9] Fred Q. Bowman and Thomas J. Lynch, Directory to Collections of New York Vital Records, 1726-1989, with Rare Gazetteer, Bowie, Md., Heritage Books, 1995.

    [10] Fred Q. Bowman and Thomas J. Lynch, 7000 Hudson-Mohawk Valley, (NY), Vital Records, 1808-1850, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997.

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