Thursday, June 16, 2011

Working with the New York State Archives for the very first time.

So, I tried out a new resource today - the New York State Archives. I've been doing genealogy for so long - can you believe I've never used the state archives before?? I guess it's because most of what I've found I've used more local facilities for - more often than not, I find local to be better than the bigger state and national resources. If a state has to cover millions of people but a village only has to keep the records on thousands, you have a better chance of finding your vital record or other record (and more quickly!) on the local level.

But sometimes you have to go large or go home. I have been spending the past week and a half really delving into the stories, the history, and the character of my two bank-robbing uncles, John Ricklefs and Charles Ricklefs. What I have been finding has been fascinating. I wrote about them before, but I have found out so much more since then that I feel the need to write yet another blog entry about them, hopefully sometime over the weekend or next week, but the point is that they both did so many multiple stints in multiple prisons for multiple home and bank robberies that I finally decided to see what I could find out about their actual criminal records.

I can't speak for everywhere, but in New York, criminal records for the state prisons are in the department of corrections section of the state archives. Like the hospital/psychiatric records I was trying to find on my great great grandmother Nora Cronin, most of these crimal records are restricted. Unlike her records, though, that restriction, for the most part, is for only 75 years (thank God so much of genealogy takes place at least that long ago! :)). It was tough navigating through the archive website, because I wasn't sure what pages I needed to read and what information was pertinent to what I was looking for. It's a bit like wandering around a maze, but you do it enough and you start to get the hang of it. What I found is that there are records available - admission records, case files, etc. - and so today I finally bit the bullet and shot them an email asking how I would go about getting ahold of something anywhere useful. Research assistance got back to me within a couple of hours saying that you can make the trip to Albany if you want, or they have staff that will do a search for you. You need the full name, the admission date (or conviction date), the inmate number if you have it, and what prison facility they were sent to. I'm not sure yet how long a search will take or how much it will cost but they do make photocopies and if they can't make photocopies, they do allow you to bring a digital camera and take your own photo, which I think is just brilliant. So far I am very pleased with my experience and since I just shot them another email asking them to do a search on the Ricklefs boys, I'm bursting with excitement to see just what exactly I'll be able to find out! I'll keep you posted!

On a quick note, tomorrow I have off so Cousin April and I are taking a field trip to Ellis Island - while I don't have any ancestors who came through Ellis Island as immigrants, I do have at least two who came through there as travelers, and I haven't been there since I was on a Girl Scouts trip in junior high (waaay too long ago!) so if the weather's nice, it should be fun - look for a post on that as well!

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