The People of Colonial Albany:

State of the Art

August 2003

Each of the 16,000 individuals who lived in the city of Albany before the Industrial Revolution has been the subject of intensive historical research conducted over the past two decades by the Colonial Albany Social History Project. The stories of these historical characters are basic to all project programming initiatives - chiefly its publications, public programs, and the project website.

To support these initiatives, a biographical file has been established for each of the 16,000 historical characters we call "the people of colonial Albany." Each individual's file is designed to accommodate information on over a hundred basic life questions including individual demographics, activities, holdings, and the quality of an individual's participation in a range of community activities.

Beginning in the year 2000, we have focused our energies on developing these files and presenting their stories as website biographies. Many of the biographies contain substantial - even comprehensive information on a person's life. Others include only a name and some defining data.

Together, the biographical files constitute the project's Community Biography Database. These files exist in index card form and are arranged alphabetically and then chronologically. Major sub-headings within the files are family names from Abeel to Zabriskie. This massive research archive is held at the project's research facility at the New York State Museum in Albany.

Because research is a major part of project operations, these biographies are in-progress and are augmented and modified on an almost daily basis. They are our most critical and also most vulnerable resources. They have been carefully and conservatively constructed. They are not simply data files. Judgments have been made about each bit of information and the information appears in coded form that makes it intelligible only to project staff. They are open only to trained project staff and cannot be accessed by any other means. In their present form, the biographies are internal research resources.

Although each biographical file has been assigned a unique entry number and some computerization has taken place, further automation and public exposure of this archive has been halted due to lack of resources and the absolute need to strategically utilize all project resources. At present, no schedule exists for making the Community Database public.

Space and staffing constraints dictate that guided access to the Database and to all other project resources be restricted to project staff, interns, and associates and, on a limited basis, to external clients who have invested substantial energy in researching particular individuals and families. For those individuals, access at our Albany offices is granted by arrangement and appointment only!

Please understand that material from the Community Biography Database is basic to all project programs. At this point, the best way for anyone to learn about the people of colonial Albany is to read a publication, attend a public program where project presenters will respond to specific questions and queries, or check "The People of Colonial Albany Live Here" website where new biographies, family information, and images are being added on an ongoing basis!

We recognize a responsibility to share the fruits of our research program. This website and our publication and presentation record speak for themselves! At the same time, we must balance goals, needs, and resources. This response represents a first step toward providing better access and has been developed in response to an escalating volume of requests for research-based materials.

If after reading this note and exploring some of the features of our website, you feel that you might be better served in a way other than those offered above, do not hesitate to contact us again for further discussion.

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fist posted: 2000; last revised 8/3/03