Gathering the Research Data, Part II
Wills are legal documents which designate the heirs of a person's
estate. They are recorded after a death and are in effect from that date.
In Albany, wills are available from 1787 to the present.
A will lists the name of the deceased person, the date of recording,
the designated heirs and the contents of the estate. Familial relationships
often become clear through statements such as "to my wife, Mary" or "to my
The indices to wills are divided into varying time spans, with a
single volume covering recorded wills from 1787 to 1895. these list the date
of recording, the name of the deceased, the volume and the page number of
the Books of Wills in which a copy of the document can be found. See
example #3 on page 25.
Wills are generally consulted only when it appears that a parcel of
property was not transferred by a deed. When this occurs, the researcher
should first refer to the index to wills for the appropriate time period
and attempt to locate the desired name. (It should be kept in mind that
not everyone leaves a will. Instead a letter of administration will be
filed which serves the same purpose. These are located with the wills and
procedure for their use is similar to that of the wills.) If the name is
found, the researcher should turn to the volume and page number of the
Book of Wills listed. It is usually unnecessary to copy the entire
document; notes on the information needed for the building report should be
sufficient. Again, the volume and page number of the book(s) employed should
ALBANY CITY DIRECTORIES
The Albany Directory is an annual publication listing the addresses
and occupations of the inhabitants of the city as well as businesses and
various institutions operating within the city during a given year. The
directory however, is only a partial list of Albany residents and should by
no means be considered a complete source. Among those excluded from the
directory are children and slaves and, in the early years,wive's names were
rarely included. Each directory also contains an assortment of information
and statistics on the population, government and institutions of Albany.
The first city directory for Albany was published in 1813 and was followed,
with an updated directory for each subsequent year, with the exception of
There are three years for which two directories were published by
competing companies: 1831,1834 and 838. It is important for these years
that both directories be consulted as the information varies slightly
and a name that is excluded from one may be included in the other.
Structure of Directory
The following is a description of the major sections of the
directory which will be of value to the researcher:
TABLE OF CONTENTS: Located in the front, the table of contents outlines the
information found in the directory. Each contains information regarding
city government, officials, streets and landmarks as well as listing
residents, businesses and other institutions.
ABBREVIATIONS:At the top of the first page of the section entitled
"Directory", is an explanation of the abbreviations that occur throughout
ADDENDUM:Immediately following the DI R ECTORY some of the earlier volumes
contain a list of additional names not included in the main section.
The ADDENDUM should be consulted when a name is not listed in the DIRECTORY.
BUSINESS DIRECTORY: This list, sometimes entitled the "Business Finder', is
found in all directories from 1857 to the present. The list is arranged
alphabetically according to the nature of the business. Professional,
institutional and occupational listings are included in this section. Not
all businesses are listed however, so it may sometimes be necessary to
consult the main section of the directory.
STREET GUIDE: Sometimes designated "House Directory", this section is found
in directories for 1895, 1896 and from 1914 to the present. This section is
set up alphabetically according to street name and lists occupants of all
buildings in the city of Albany. If a building is vacant this fact will be
noted in the STREET GUIDE. This section is a valuable source for
discovering the names of the occupants of the building being researched.
ADVERTISEMENTS: Most advertisements are located in the back of the
directories but some occur at random throughout the book and on the front
and back covers. Consult the ALPHABETICAL LIST OF ADVERTISERS.Located in
the front of each directory immediately following the TABLE OF CONTENTS,
if looking for a specific advertisement. All businesses did not run
advertisements however, so this list by no means includes all businesses
listed in the directory. Advertisements may occasionally be helpful in
dating a building by including a picture of what the building looked like
at a particular time.
Using the information compiled from the Deeds, Assessment Rolls, and
Water Rents the researcher should consult the directory for the following
information which will be noted according to the format outlined.
See example #4 on page 29.
1. OWNER'S ADDRESS, OCCUPATION and PLACE OF BUSINESS, noting all changes.
2. TENANT'S OCCUPATION and PLACE OF BUSINESS, again noting all changes. All
tenants should be listed (except in the case of large apartment buildings).
3. BUSINESS known to have been located in the building should also be noted;
if the nature of the business is unclear it should be traced in the business
4. STREET GUIDES should be consulted in order to discover the names and
occupations of tenants not listed in other sources. Names listed in the
Street Guide should be traced in the main section of the directory to
determine the occupations of the tenants. See below for procedure to be
followed for using Street Guides
5. DATES OF DEATH, or moved to another city, when listed, should be noted.
The Street Guides are arranged alphabetically according to street
name and, within that category, according to house number. The researcher
should always note any changes in house numbers from the Assessment Rolls so
as to avoid confusion when doing directory work. By tracing the names that
appear in the 1895, 1896 and 1914 Street Guides in those directories that do
not include Street Guides, the researcher may obtain information which
had been missing. The Street Guides should be used in the following manner:
1895-Trace names back until no longer listed.
1896-Trace names forward until no longer listed.
1915-Trace names back until no longer listed.
1914-Present- Check for tenants' names and trace these in main section of
directory for occupations.
Census Records contain detailed information on the entire population
of the area surveyed as well as on individual families. Those censuses
which will be most valuable to the researcher of buildings will be the
Federal Census of 1880 and the New York State Censuses of 1905, 1915 and
1925. Each is arranged according to state (federal), county, municipality;
each municipality is subdivided into wards and election districts.
Some of the types of information to be found in each of these four
census years are:
Federal Census of 1880: Address, names; relationship to head of family;
sex; race; age; marital status; born within the year; married within the
year; profession, occupation or trade; number of months unemployed during
census year; whether person is sick or temporarily disabled so as to be
unable to attend to ordinary business or duties; if so, what is the sickness
or disability; whether blind, deaf and dumb, idiotic, insane, maimed,
crippled or bedridden; attended school within the year; ability to read and
write; place of birth of person, father and mother.
New York State Census of 1905: Residence, street and number; names of all
individuals in a given household; relationship to head of household; color;
sex; age; nativity, U.S. or foreign country; number of years in U.S.;
citizen or alien; occupation, trade or profession; class, employer or
employee; for inmates of institutions only,residence at time of admission.
New York State Census of 1915: as 1905; includes infants under one year of
New York State Census of 1925: Residence, street and number; names of all
individuals in household; relationship to head of household; color; sex;
age; nativity, U.S. or foreign country; number of years in U.S.;
citizen or alien; place of naturalization; class; inmates of institutions;
infants under one year of age.
The census records should always be checked when researching
buildings. They often provide names of occupants, especially women and
children, that will not be found in the city directories; socioeconomic
status may be determined by the inclusion of servants' names.
The researcher must know the ward number of the block for each
census year; he should then scan the ward (disregarding election districts)
until the address is located. Addresses will usually proceed in order,
although one building may sometimes be enumerated on an entirely different
page. It is therefore important to check the entire election district if
an address appears as to be "missing". (Occasionally a building is not
listed; this should not be assumed until the entire election district has
The researcher should copy all necessary information for the address;
census year, city, ward number, election district and page number should be
REGISTRATION OR ENROLLMENT OF VOTERS VOLUMES
As was noted in the section on City Directories, it is sometimes
difficult to trace all of the tenants in the building for the years
1897-1913, the period before street directories became standard. The
Registration or Enrollment of Voters volumes should be checked (in addition
to the Census Rolls) for names of occupants for these years.
The Enrollment of Voters volumes cover the period 1897-1985. Each
year is contained in a single volume; each volume is subdivided into wards
and election districts. Every street within a district is listed
(alphabetically) and broken down by street address. A registered voter's
name (men only prior to 1920) will appear next to each address and, in later
years, the party affiliation, if any, is also listed.
The researcher should determine the ward in which his building lies
for the years 1897-1913,then turn to the proper ward in the Enrollment or
Registration of Voters volume and locate the street and address. The
name(s) opposite the address should be noted along with the year and
page number of the volume. The researcher should then check the general
directory section of the Albany City Directory for the corresponding year,
looking for the name found in the voters' rolls. All pertinent information
should then be copied according to the procedure outlined in the section
on City Directories.
Maps and atlases chronologically arranged can provide a visual
history of a city. They often indicate original and subsequent settlement
patterns, changes in boundaries, former names of streets and parks; the
property dimensions of individual lots may also be shown, along with
property ownership, former street addresses, structures on the lot,
construction materials, number of stories, even whether or not a building
had a cornice. Dates of construction for structures may also be narrowed
There is a large collection of maps available for the City of Albany,
ranging in date from the 1600s to the present containing diverse types of
information. Several individual maps that will be the most helpful and
most frequently used by the building researcher are briefly described
1850, Map of Albany by J.C. Sidney. This map indicates building placement
along the streets of Albany. Some individual buildings, usually in the
outlying areas, are clearly defined; in the more densely build-up areas,
the blocks are filled in, indicating dense construction but not individual
configurations of buildings.
1857, Map of Albany by E.M. Dripps. This map shows individual buildings,
their configuration and placement on the lot and building construction
materials (brick or wood).
1866, Beers Atlas of New York State. This atlas has only one map pertaining
to the City of Albany but it contains information similar to that of the
1850 map referred to above.
1876, City of Albany, N.Y. Atlas by C.E. Hopkins. This collection contains
a single map of the entire city,followed by more detailed maps of smaller
sections of it. The maps indicate street addresses, property ownership,
individual configuration of buildings and lot placement, outbuildings and
construction materials (either brick or wood).
1876-1974, Sanborn Insurance Maps. These maps were compiled for insurance
purposes; there are either one or two volumes for each year in which the
maps are available. each volume containing a general map of Albany followed
by many detailed maps of smaller areas of the city. Every volume contains
an index and a key which is extremely important for the understanding of the
maps. Some of the types of information included are: building configuration,
construction material, number of stories and height of the building,
placement of windows and shutters, cornices and roofing material, party
walls, chimneys, sky lights, fire walls and outbuildings. The maps are
available for the years 1876 revised to 1889, 1892 revised to 1895, 1908
revised to 1918, 1909 revised to 1922, 1935 revised to 1961, 1972 and 1974.
Revisions were made by pasting on corrections over those lots that changed
between the time of publication and updating, a new index for each year of
revisions was pasted onto the front cover of the volume; the map in use
will therefore be current with the last year for which an additional index
When the researcher finds that data gathered from written sources
is unclear or confusing, he should turn to maps as a visual reference source.
Having first decided what type(s) of information he is looking for, the
researcher should then locate an appropriate map or maps. These should be
studied, the researcher noting the kinds of information found. If necessary,
the map(s) should be copied to be used for quick reference at a later date.
It is important to always note the map title,map surveyor, publisher and
PHOTOGRAPHS, PRINTS AND ARTISTIC RENDERINGS
Photographs, prints and artistic renderings of buildings can aid the
researcher in documenting renovations, alterations or former commercial
occupants of a structure. In Albany such visual aids are available from the
1600's through the present. they can be found in public and private
photograph collections, in volumes such as Morris Gerber's Old Albany, in
promotional publications, and in the city directories advertisement
The researcher will generally use photographs, prints Or, renderings
when he is having trouble documenting the date of a building alteration.
Procedure for their use needs no explanation. However, when using prints or
artistic renderings, the researcher should keep in mind that the artist may
use some license and if so, that the picture may not be an accurate
A primary source is a record made at the time an event takes place.
It is first hand information, or an original document, which can take the
form of a government record, a diary, a photograph,etc.... A secondary
source is not original but derived or resulting from something considered
primary. It is an evaluation of facts or statements found in primary
sources and may take the form of a report, a local history, etc....
There are two main reasons for consulting secondary sources when doing
research for the building history:
1. When more information is required regarding a person connected with a
building being researched. This would be necessary when an owner or tenant
appears to be a prominent member of the community or in some respect an
2. When more information is required about a building that is being
researched. This would be necessary when a building appears architecturally
or historically significant.
There are several local histories which include information on
these topics. The following is an annotated list of those which might
prove most useful to the researcher:
Howell, George R. and Tenney, Jonathan, History of the County of Albany from
1609 to 1886, New York: W.W.Munsell & Co., Publishers, 1886. A history of
Albany, it also contains biographical sketches of prominent Albany citizens,
descriptions of local industries, and information about outstanding
buildings and local architects.
Munsell, Joel, Annals of Albany (ten volumes), Albany, New York: Munsell &
Rowland, Printers, 1850's. Collected writings about Albany from settlement
to time of publication. Includes travelers' accounts, newspaper excerpts
and Common Council proceedings. Indices for some volumes are more
comprehensive than for others.
Munsell, Joel, Collections on the History of A lban.v, (four volumes) Albany,
New York: J. Munsell, published 1870's. Contains collected writings of
similar nature as Annals of Albany; some family genealogies. Indexed.
Parker, Amasa, J., Landmarks of Albany County, Syracuse, New York: D. Mason
& Co., Publishers, 1897. A history of Albany County, its citizenry and
institutions from 1609-1897, some mention of local buildings and architects.
Reynolds, Cuyler, Albany Chronicles: A History of the City Arranged
Chronologically, Albany, New York: Lyon Company Printers, 1906. History of
Albany from 1609-1906.
Relevant Documentary Sources at the
Albany County Hall of Record
Title Dates Title Dates
Tax Assessment Rolls 1813-1976 Index to Wills and Letters
Water Rents 1851-1972 of Administration 1787-1895
Directories 1830-1983 Wills 1691-1835
Beers Atlas of New York State
New York State 1866 Census Rolls 1915
Atlas of Albany by New York State
G.M. Hopkins 1876 Census Rolls 1925
Sanborn Insurance Maps 1892 Register of Voters 1899-1966
Sanborn Insurance Maps 1908-1909 Enrollment of Voters 1941-1969
Sanborn Insurance Maps 1934 Indices & Records to
Sanborn Insurance Maps 1972-1974 Building Permits 1909-1925
Index to Deeds 1630-1894 Street Openings
Deeds 1656-pres. Albany Common Council
Mortgage Books 1630-pres. Minutes 1686-pres.
NOTE: All sources are non-circulating. Records are accessible to the
public. ACHOR encourages the use of microfilm copies.