New York is a state in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. New York is the 27th-most extensive, the fourth-most populous, and the seventh-most densely populated of the 50 United States. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south and Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont to the east. The state has a maritime border with Rhode Island east of Long Island, as well as an international border with the Canadian provinces of Quebec to the north and Ontario to the west and north. The state of New York is often referred to as New York State to distinguish it from New York City, its largest city.
New York City, with a Census-estimated population of over 8.4 million in 2013, is the most populous city in the United States. It is the nucleus of the premier gateway for legal immigration to the United States—the New York City Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous urban agglomerations in the world. New York City is also known for being the location of Ellis Island, the largest historical gateway for immigration in the history of the United States. A global power city, New York City exerts a significant impact upon commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and entertainment. The home of the United Nations Headquarters, New York City is an important center for international diplomacy and has been described as the cultural and financial capital of the world. New York City alone makes up over 40 percent of the population of New York State. Two-thirds of the state's population live in the New York City Metropolitan Area, and nearly 40% live on Long Island. Both the state and New York City were named for the 17th century Duke of York, future King James II of England.
The earliest Europeans in New York were French colonists and Jesuit missionaries who came down from settlements at Montreal for trade and proselytizing. New York was inhabited by various tribes of Algonquian and Iroquoian speaking Native Americans at the time Dutch settlers moved into the region in the early 17th century. In 1609, the region was first claimed by Henry Hudson for the Dutch. They built Fort Nassau in 1614 at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, where the present-day capital of Albany later developed. The Dutch soon also settled New Amsterdam and parts of the Hudson River Valley, establishing the colony of New Netherland based on trade and profitmaking. It was a multicultural community from the earliest days and the center of trade and immigration. The British annexed the colony from the Dutch in 1664. The borders of the British colony, the Province of New York, were quite similar to those of the present-day state. Both the Dutch and the British imported African slaves as laborers to the city and colony; African Americans were integral to the rise of the city. New York had the second-highest population of slaves after Charleston, SC.
About one-third of the battles of the Revolutionary War took place in New York. The state constitution was enacted in 1777. New York became the 11th state to ratify the United States Constitution, on July 26, 1788. Slavery was extensive in New York City and some agricultural areas. The state passed a law for the gradual abolition of slavery soon after the Revolutionary War, but the last slave in New York was not freed until 1827.
Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage marked the beginning of European involvement with the area. Sailing for the Dutch East India Company and looking for a passage to Asia, he entered the Upper New York Bay on September 11 of that year. After his return to the Netherlands, word of his findings quickly spread and Dutch merchants began to explore the coast in search for profitable fur trade.
During the 17th century, Dutch trading posts established for the trade of pelts from the Lenape, Iroquois, and other indigenous peoples were founded in the colony of New Netherland. The first of these trading posts were Fort Nassau (1614, near present-day Albany); Fort Orange (1624, on the Hudson River just south of the current city of Albany and created to replace Fort Nassau), developing into settlement Beverwijck (1647), and into what became Albany; Fort Amsterdam (1625, to develop into the town New Amsterdam which is present-day New York City); and Esopus, (1653, now Kingston). The success of the patroonship of Rensselaerswyck (1630), which surrounded Albany and lasted until the mid-19th century, was also a key factor in the early success of the colony. The English captured the colony during the Second Anglo-Dutch War and governed it as the Province of New York. The city of New York was recaptured by the Dutch in 1673 during the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674) and renamed New Orange,returned to the English under the terms of the Treaty of Westminster a year later.
The Sons of Liberty were organized in New York City during the 1760s, largely in response to the oppressive Stamp Act passed by the British Parliament in 1765. The Stamp Act Congress met in the city on October 19 of that year, composed of representatives from across the Thirteen Colonies who set the stage for the Continental Congress to follow. The Stamp Act Congress resulted in the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, which was the first written expression by representatives of the Americans of many of the rights and complaints later expressed in the United States Declaration of Independence, including the right to representative government. At the same time, with strong trading, business and personal ties to Britain among many New York residents, many were Loyalists.
New York endorsed the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776. The New York State constitution was framed by a convention which assembled at White Plains on July 10, 1776, and after repeated adjournments and changes of location, terminated its labors at Kingston on Sunday evening, April 20, 1777, when the new constitution drafted by John Jay was adopted with but one dissenting vote. It was not submitted to the people for ratification. On July 30, 1777, George Clinton was inaugurated as the first Governor of New York at Kingston.
The first major battle of the American Revolutionary War after independence was declared—and the largest battle of the entire war—was fought in New York at the Battle of Long Island (a.k.a. Battle of Brooklyn) in August 1776. With the British victory, they occupied New York City, making it their military and political base of operations in North America for the duration of the conflict, and consequently the focus of General George Washington's intelligence network.
On the notorious British prison ships of Wallabout Bay, more American combatants died of intentional neglect than were killed in combat in every battle of the war, combined. Both sides of combatants lost more soldiers to disease than to outright wounds.
As allies of the British, the Iroquois were forced out of New York, although they had not been part of treaty negotiations. They resettled in Canada after the war and were given land grants by the Crown. In the treaty settlement, the British ceded most Indian lands to the new United States. Because New York made treaty with the Iroquois without getting Congressional approval, some of the land purchases have been subject to land claim suits since the late 20th century by the federally recognized tribes. New York put up more than of former Iroquois territory for sale in the years after the Revolutionary War, leading to rapid development in upstate and western New York. As per the Treaty of Paris, the last vestige of British authority in the former Thirteen Colonies—their troops in New York City—departed in 1783, which was long afterward celebrated as Evacuation Day.
New York City was the national capital under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the first government. That organization was found to be insufficient, and prominent New Yorker Alexander Hamilton advocated a new government that would include an executive, national courts, and the power to tax. Hamilton led the Annapolis Convention (1786) that called for the Philadelphia Convention, which drafted the United States Constitution, in which he also took part. The new government was to be a strong federal national government to replace the relatively weaker confederation of individual states. Following heated debate, which included the publication of the now quintessential constitutional interpretation—The Federalist Papers—as a series of installments in New York City newspapers, New York was the 11th state to ratify the United States Constitution, on July 26, 1788. New York remained the national capital under the new constitution until 1790, and was the site of the inauguration of President George Washington, the drafting of United States Bill of Rights, and the first session of the United States Supreme Court. Hamilton's revival of the heavily indebted United States economy after the war and the creation of a national bank significantly contributed to New York City becoming the financial center of the new nation.
Transportation in western New York was difficult before canals were built in the early part of the 19th century. The Hudson and Mohawk Rivers could be navigated only as far as Central New York. While the Saint Lawrence River could be navigated to Lake Ontario, the way westward to the other Great Lakes was blocked by Niagara Falls, and so the only route to western New York was over land.
Governor DeWitt Clinton strongly advocated building a canal connecting the Hudson River with Lake Erie, and thus all of the Great Lakes. Work commenced in 1817, and the Erie Canal was finished in 1825. Packet boats traveled up and down the canal with sightseers and visitors on board. The canal was used even more extensively for commercial transport, as commodities were shipped from the Midwest, and finished goods transported along the canals in return from industries along the Mohawk Valley and New York City. It was considered an engineering marvel which opened up vast areas of New York to commerce and settlement. It enabled Great Lakes port cities such as Buffalo and Rochester to grow and prosper. It also connected the burgeoning agricultural production of the Midwest and shipping on the Great Lakes, with the port of New York City. Improving transportation, it enabled additional population migration to territories west of New York. The construction of railroads through the state superseded the canal.
New York City and upstate textile mills did extensive business with the South during the antebellum years. Nearly half of New York exports were related to cotton, and Southern planters and businessmen were so frequent in New York as to have favorite hotels. At the same time, activism for abolitionism was strong in the city and upstate, where many communities also supported the Underground Railroad. In the early days of the American Civil War, the mayor of New York recommended that the city secede so its trade would not be damaged, but ultimately the city supported the war. During the Civil War, New York state provided more than 370,000 soldiers to the Union armies. Over 53,000 New Yorkers died in service, roughly one of every seven who served.
Since the early 19th century, New York City has been the largest port of entry for immigration into the United States. Immigration has built the city and nation. In the United States, the federal government did not assume direct jurisdiction for immigration until 1890. Prior to this time, the matter was delegated to the individual states, then via contract between the states and the federal government. Most immigrants to New York would disembark at the bustling docks along the Hudson and East Rivers, in the eventual Lower Manhattan. On May 4, 1847 the New York State Legislature created the Board of Commissioners of Immigration to regulate immigration.
The first permanent immigration depot in New York was established in 1855 at Castle Garden; a converted War of 1812 era fort located at the Battery at the tip of Manhattan. Today it stands within Battery Park. The first immigrants to arrive at the new depot were aboard three ships that had just been released from quarantine. Castle Garden served as New York's immigrant depot until it closed on April 18, 1890 when the federal government assumed control over immigration. During that period, more than 8 million immigrants passed through its doors (two out of every three U.S. immigrants).
When the federal government assumed control, it established the Bureau of Immigration, which chose the three-acre Ellis Island in Upper New York Harbor for an entry depot. Already federally controlled, the island had served as an ammunition depot. It was chosen due its relative isolation with proximity to New York City and the rail lines of Jersey City, New Jersey, via a short ferry ride. While the island was being developed and expanded via land reclamation, the federal government operated a temporary depot at the Barge Office at the Battery.
Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892, and operated as a central immigration center until the National Origins Act was passed in 1924, reducing immigration. After that date, the only immigrants to pass through were displaced persons or war refugees. The island ceased all immigration processing on November 12, 1954 when the last person detained on the island, Norwegian seaman Arne Peterssen, was released. He had overstayed his shore leave and left on the 10:15 a.m. Manhattan-bound ferry to return to his ship.
More than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. In the 21st century, more than 100 million Americans across the United States can trace their ancestry to these immigrants.
Ellis Island was the subject of a contentious and long-running border and jurisdictional dispute between New York State and the State of New Jersey, as both claimed it. The issue was settled in 1998 by the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that the original 3.3 acre island was New York State territory and that the balance of the added after 1834 by landfill was in New Jersey. The island was added to the National Park Service system in May 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson and is still owned by the Federal government as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Ellis Island was opened to the public as a museum of immigration in 1990.
September 11, 2001 attacks
On September 11, 2001, two of four hijacked planes were flown into the former Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. The towers collapsed. 7 World Trade Center also collapsed due to damage from fires. The other buildings of the World Trade Center complex were damaged beyond repair and soon after demolished. The collapse of the Twin Towers caused extensive damage and resulted in the deaths of 2,606 people, in addition to those on the planes. Since September 11, most of Lower Manhattan has been restored. In the years since, many rescue workers and residents of the area have developed several life-threatening illnesses, and some have already died.
A memorial at the site was opened to the public on September 11, 2011. A permanent museum later opened at the site on March 21, 2014. When completed that year, the new One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower, was the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, at 1,776 feet. Other skyscrapers are under construction at the site.
Hurricane Sandy, 2012
On October 29 and 30, 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused extensive destruction of the state's shorelines, ravaging portions of New York City and Long Island with record-high storm surge, with severe flooding and high winds causing power outages for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, and leading to gasoline shortages and disruption of mass transit systems. The storm and its profound effects have prompted the discussion of constructing seawalls and other coastal barriers around the shorelines of New York City and Long Island to minimize the risk from another such future event. This is considered highly probably due to global warming and rise in sea levels.
Note: New York was one of the 13 original States. Since relinquishing its claims to Vermont in 1791, it has had substantially its present boundaries. Census coverage excluded Vermont in 1790, and did not include the far western part of the State until 1800.. Total for 1890 includes population (5,321) of certain Indian reservations, not reported by county.
Information on Current and Defunct Counties
One confusion experienced by researchers in New York state is town versus township. In New York, the concepts are equivalent. In my research, I found records giving the living place of an individual alternately as Hempstead and Wantagh. Both are true because Wantagh was a place (village) within the Town of Hempstead in Queens (later Nassau) County. A map showing the various villages within three Towns of current Nassau County helped me see the distinction: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mfox7/gnmap.gif
Current convention at WeRelate is to match to villages and hamlets when that information is known and then to the county, leaving out the designation of Town. When the name of the village is the same as the name of the town, distinguish between the two by adding (village) or (town) to the title of the place page. This essentially is considering Towns the same as mid-western Townships. Link to the Towns only when the village or hamlet is unknown. During GEDCOM upload, the system will assume the city, village or hamlet unless Town is specified.
The following is copied from an article by Walter Greenspan and used with his permission. Full article is at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyqueen2/History.htm.
NYS Geographic Glossary with the NYS definitions of county, city, town, village, hamlet and postal zone.
In many areas of New York State, the problem of non-conforming postal zones leads to a situation where the majority of places have a different community name in their mailing address than the community where that place is actually located. Thus, postal zone location does not always determine city, village or hamlet location.
County: A county is a municipal corporation, a subdivision of the state, created to perform state functions; a "regional" government. All counties are divided into cities, towns and Indian reservations.
City: A city is a unique governmental entity with its own special charter. Cities are not sub-divided, except into neighborhoods, which are informal geographic areas.
Town: A town is a municipal corporation and encompasses all territory within the state except that within cities or Indian reservations. Towns can be sub-divided into villages and hamlets.
Village: A village is a general purpose municipal corporation formed voluntarily by the residents of an area in one or more towns to provide themselves with municipal services. The pattern of village organization is similar to those of a city. A village is divided into neighborhoods, which are informal geographic areas.
Hamlet: A hamlet is an unincorporated area in one or more towns that is governed at-large by the town(s) it is in. A hamlet is divided into neighborhoods, which are informal geographic areas.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
In the time period 1780-1850 there were no New England style town vital records. A state law to keep them was passed in 1881, but consistent records were not kept until 1908. Further, there were no county marriage records.
We are used to having records in certain places and in New York that is not always the case. There is no real consistency among counties. Counties differ in what information is recorded, what the record is called, how and where the record is preserved, and how the record is accessed.
Substitutes for vital records are worth looking for. Some are newspapers, justice of the peace records, minister’s records, and church records.
Outstanding guide to New York family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county and town records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.