Pat’s Genealogy Tips: Using OWWL History Resources

The site has many resources to assist the genealogist. In addition, there are resources of interest to history buffs and students looking for a history project. In the last article, I wrote about how to access the free Library version available through OWWL, and how to start a family history search if you’ve never done that before.

This time, I’ll discuss all the marvelous sites you can access through the Pioneer Library System’s site.

From, select the Discover History tab to get to the Local History Resources page.  Specifically genealogy choices are Ancestry and  I am an Ancestry subscriber, but I plan to play with in the near future and report back on it.

In the Historic Newspapers section, I found a lot of possibilities for information on ancestors who lived in New York State, especially in our Pioneer Library System area; and for just plain interesting historical tid-bits. Selecting a set of Digital Archives from the Library Repositories category will give you a page of newspaper titles and choice of choosing the paper title, or a range of years.  I found it more productive to choose the range of years (right column) if there was a specific date I was looking for, as choosing the title (left column) might give me a date not even noted as a “browse by year” choice. Making a choice will give you a page with summary clips of the beginning of articles – often looking like some sort of code – the actual paper was probably scanned with an OCR (optical character recognition) program and the blurred and faded characters are how the program interpreted it.  Click on the heading of any of the segments and you will be able to see and hopefully read the original newspaper article. A note here – if the paper dates from the 1700’s or early 1800’s, remember that it was common to use the “long s” which looked like an “f”, usually when there was a double “s” in the word, the first one was a long s, but it was also used for a single s.

In the State Repositories category, click on New York State Historic Newspapers – this is my favorite old NYS newspaper search.  While I haven’t found any direct ancestors from NYS yet, I did manage to find several articles that mentioned my great-great-uncle Charles Watson, Sheriff of Binghamton from 1926-1928, and I found out what his occupations were before and after being sheriff.  Choose the NYS county you want to search from the map, then type in your search topic, or choose a newspaper to browse. This section has digitized newspapers from early 1725 (New York City) to the end of 2018.

It appears the Chronicling America site under National Repositories provides mostly information about historic newspapers, but limited digitized pages. The US Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present tab will help you discover the names of newspapers published in certain locations at certain times and where you can look at original copies or microfilm.  Use the All Digitized Newspapers 1789 -1963  tab to see what is already digitized in the area you are researching.

In the Archival Collections section, the Library Repositories collections are explained for your convenience.

In the State Repositories  section, the New York Heritage site has hundreds of pages of digitized collections of all sorts – from various towns, villages, and cities of New York State to photographs and postcards, maps, and art objects collections. Page down and click on Exhibits. There’s an entire online exhibit about the census, “Making Sense of the Census in New York.” If you are working on your family history this can help you understand how census records can reveal information about your family. If you’re a student looking for a timely project, there are many pages of information in this exhibit.

The New York State Archives and Digital Collections section has a comprehensive collection of surviving Dutch records dating from the first settlers in the Dutch Colony of New Netherlands in the 17th century with 17 further links to related sites and collections.  Click on Exhibits in the top banner to find exhibits about “African American Voting Rights,” “American Indians in Colonial New York,” “Industrialization and Child Labor in New York,” and a collection of union labels registered in New York State in the last 19th and early 20th centuries.

New York State Library Digital Collections – This section has a helpful FAQ page, and a wide assortment of documents on all aspects of NYS history, and histories of a selection of early towns and counties. In the Manuscript and Special Collections section, some links show where to view the material and other links take you to the digitized images and information.

I often point out to beginners in the genealogy field that there are an enormous number of websites out there to look at for the information you want (and more being posted every day). Some are well organized, some are not, and sometimes there are links posted for sites that are no longer available. If you do not find a certain site helpful, make a note on a “Source Summary” sheet or “Research Calendar” of the site address and when you tried the site. That will prevent you from wasting time on it again, or if you feel it should have information you are looking for, try it again the future.

This is an amazing collection of sites about the history of New York State, all assembled on the site. It’s like one-stop shopping for anyone looking for New York State ancestors!

Enjoy the search!  


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