by Sara
   
Last fall, I embarked on a genealogical road trip with my mom and her brother to New York State. Apart from observing lovely scenery along the way and the autumnal colors peeking through the trees in the Finger Lakes Region, we spent our time visiting the usual genealogical tourist attractions of court houses, libraries, museums and graveyards. Because we had done some (but not all) of our homework before we left, we also knew that New York has county or town historians that should be visited as well.

The New York County historian usually has an office in the county office buildings with regularly scheduled hours (but be sure to call ahead), while town historians may work out of their homes at irregular hours. In general, county and town historians often have published and manuscript copies of genealogical print materials, as well as original county or town records such as deeds, wills, marriage records, and so on. Our experience was very positive, though it did vary from office to office. We gained copies of county records, and we also accessed family files for several ancestral families, which contained good clues for us to follow up on. Many of the historians were knowledgeable about the immediate area and its records, and could refer us to other useful repositories if needed. A list of historians is available online.

We did not do all of our homework, however, before embarking on this trip. I am embarrassed to say that we showed up at two repositories with mistaken information about the hours they were open to the public. As a genealogy librarian myself, I should know better! We drove through Syracuse on our way out and found out that the Onondaga Historical Museum was closed on Tuesdays, so we missed out that day. On the way back, we got there at 2:30 p.m. and found out the archives had closed at 2, while the museum stayed open until 4. We were able to gain access for a few minutes because the librarian was still in the building, but were very rushed, and felt terrible for inconveniencing the staff. A few days later, we had another incident of bad planning. I did not realize that the Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz had separate archives and library buildings, with different hours and staffing, both of which required advanced appointments. We were able to use the library by virtue of an appointment set up a few days before, but missed out on the Archives, which was very disappointing.

We were very lucky that in two of the three situations, it worked out that we were able to access the materials that we driven cross-country to view. You might not always be that lucky. A thorough perusal of the websites of these organizations would have provided us with the necessary information, although sometimes hours of operation can be hidden several pages deep on a website. In addition, it is a good idea to find a telephone number and call ahead, just to be sure. Also, you might peruse a guidebook about genealogical research in the particular state you intend to visit so that you are informed of any research peculiarities of that area before you arrive. So, take a lesson from my sad experiences and be sure to plan ahead for your research trips to avoid disappointment.