New York (; locally ) is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. New York is the 27th-most extensive, the 3rd-most populous, and the 7th-most densely populated of the 50 United States. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by 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 Ontario to the west and north, and Quebec to the north. The state of New York is often referred to as New York State to distinguish it from New York City.
New York City, with a population of over 8.1 million, is the most populous city in the United States. Alone, it makes up over 40 percent of the population of New York state. It is known for its status as a center for finance and culture and for its status as the largest gateway for immigration to the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, New York City is also a destination of choice for many foreign visitors. Both the state and city were named for the 17th century Duke of York, James Stuart, future James II and VII of England and Scotland.
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. Fort Nassau was built near the site of the present-day capital of Albany in 1614. The Dutch soon also settled New Amsterdam and parts of the Hudson River Valley, establishing the colony of New Netherland. The British took over the colony by annexation in 1664.
The borders of the British colony, the Province of New York, were roughly similar to those of the present-day state. About one third of all 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.
Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage marked the beginning of the European involvement with that 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 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 expanded into 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 once again in 1673 during the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674) and renamed New Orange, but 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: a gathering of representatives from across the Thirteen Colonies that 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.
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, New York on July 10, 1776, and after repeated adjournments and changes of location, terminated its labors at Kingston, New York 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. British victory made New York City their military and political base of operations in North America for the duration of the conflict, and consequently the center of attention for General George Washington's intelligence network.
In an attempt to retain their sovereignty and remain an independent nation positioned between the new United States and British North America, four of the Iroquois nations fought on the side of the British; only the Oneidas and their dependents the Tuscaroras allied themselves to the Americans. The Sullivan Expedition of 1778 and 1779 destroyed nearly 50 Iroquois villages and adjacent croplands, forcing many refugees to British-held Niagara. As allies of the British, the Iroquois were resettled in Canada after the war. 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 are the subject of modern-day claims by the individual tribes. More than of former Iroquois territory was put up for sale in the years after the Revolutionary War, leading to rapid development in upstate 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 afterwards celebrated as Evacuation Day.
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.
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 St. 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 to connect 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. It was considered an engineering marvel. Packet boats traveled up and down the canal with sightseers and visitors on board. The canal 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.
During the American Civil War, New York provided more than 370,000 soldiers to the Union armies. Over 53,000 New Yorkers died in service, roughly 1 of every 7 who served.
New York City was the main immigration port of entry into the United States from the early 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. In the United States, although immigration acts had been passed, there was no formal routine for implementing immigration policy on a national level until the federal government assumed direct jurisdiction in 1890. Prior to this time the matter was delegated to the individual states then via contract between the states with the federal govennment. Most immigrants to New York would disembark at the bustling docks along the Hudson and East Rivers, in what is today Downtown 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, which is today in Battery Park. The first immigrants to arrive at the new depot were onboard three ships that had just been released from quarantine.Castle garden would serve as New York's immigrant depot until it closed on April 18, 1890 when the federal government assumed control over immigration. During that period of time more than 8 million immigrants passed through its doors (two out of every three U.S. immigrants).
When the federal government assumed control over immigration it established the Bureau of Immigration which chose the three-acre Ellis Island in Upper New York Harbor. The island; already a federal possession had served as an ammunition depot. It was chosen due its relative isolation as an island yet it was still in close proximity to New York City and the rail lines of Jersey City, New Jersey, via a short ferry ride. The island needed improvements including expansion via land reclamation, prior to being used, so the federal government operated a temporary depot at the Barge Office at the Battery.
Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892, and operated as an central immigration center until the National Origins Act was passed in 1924, then the only immigrants to pass through there were displaced persons or war refugees. The island ceased all immigration processing on November 12, 1954 when the last person detained on the island, a Norwegian seaman named Arne Peterssen who had overstayed his shore leave was released. He left on the 10:15 a.m. Manhattan-bound ferry to return to his ship.
More than 12 million immigrants had passed through Ellis Island, between 1892 and 1954 and today, over 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry to the immigrants, who first arrived in America through Castle Clinton and Ellis Island, before settling throughout the United States.
Ellis Island was the subject of a contentious and long-running border dispute between New York State and the State of New Jersey over within whose borders the island lies. 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.
Today the island is still owned by the Federal government, it was added to the National Park system in May 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Ellis Island was opened to the public as a museum of immigration in 1990.
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.