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November 22, 2014

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New York’s 400th party is our party too

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

New Yorkers are having a party, and we're invited. The state celebrates 2009, and here's why: 400 years ago Henry Hudson captained a Dutch East India Company expedition up the river later named in his honor; Samuel de Champlain discovered the lake that bears his name; and 200 years ago Robert Fulton advanced transportation technology when he first traveled up the Hudson in his steamboat. You can follow anniversary events at the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Web site (www.exploreny400.com).

One hundred years ago New York marked the occasion with the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909; that celebratory event is now commemorated by an exhibit at the Hudson River Maritime Museum that runs from May through October 2009 (www.hrmm.org). We still have time to visit.

New York belongs to all of us. Immigrants arrived into New York from all countries; patriot soldiers fought the Revolutionary War on New York soil; New York City slaves revolted against their captors in 1741; the Dutch established America's "first multiethnic, upwardly mobile society" on Manhattan Island (Russell Shorto, Island at the Center of the World). New York's party is our party.

Many Americans have ancestors who passed through New York, sometimes stopping for many generations. New York history shaped their lives. Did they leave New York City when the British invaded and occupied Manhattan? Did they breathe the smoke from the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911? Did they enter the United States at Castle Garden or, later, Ellis Island?

Historic New York newspapers began before the Revolution, and they preserve the past through their contemporary articles. You may find your ancestors mentioned in any number of New York newspapers. Search Fulton History's digital collection of New York state newspapers at Old Fulton New York Post Cards (www.fultonhistory.com). Also check New York State newspapers on microfilm and in print at the New York State Library (www.nysl.nysed.gov/nysnp/). The NYSL may loan their microfilm through an Interlibrary Loan request through your local public library.

You will find several New York city and county directories on microfilm, in which you may find your ancestors listed. DistantCousin.com (www.distantcousin.com/Directories/NY/) provides digital copies of several city directories from New York and other states. The New York Public Library and New York State Library hold microfilm collections of city directories from around the state, as does the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Directory publishers did not limit themselves to the larger cities of New York, Rochester and Albany — they issued directories for counties and for many smaller cities, such as Troy, Auburn, Poughkeepsie and Schenectady.

Scholars have captured slices of New York history and culture in a variety of published works. A few such volumes include Christine Stansell's "City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860"; Frank J. Doherty's series, "The Settlers of the Beekman Patent, Dutchess County, New York"; Gary B. Nash's "The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution"; George Chauncey's "Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940"; Mary P. Ryan's "Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City during the Nineteenth Century"; and William H. Whyte's "The WPA Guide to New York City: The Federal Writers' Project Guide to 1930s New York."

I like to visit New York any time I can. But 2009 seems an especially appropriate time to enjoy the history of the Empire State and to celebrate New York.

Stefani Evans is a Board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News 2275 Corporate Circle, Suite 300, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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