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Press Releases :: 02/07/06

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Albany, New York -- 02/07/06

ALBANY, NY – Preserving Family History: The Heritage of an Albany County Family opens at the New York State Museum Saturday, Feb. 11th, showcasing an unusual collection of heirlooms gathered by eight generations of one family over a span of 250 years.         

            Many families preserve their history by saving treasured family possessions from previous generations. This exhibition provides an example of what types of objects a family collects and why.

            Notable for its longevity, this family collection includes furniture, silver, glass, portraits, textiles, photo albums and other treasured heirlooms gathered by the Tompkins family from Coeyman’s Hollow. Beginning with the possessions of Andries Ten Eyck, who settled in southern Albany County in 1749, the collection of this middle-class farming family grew as it passed through the Ten Eycks and Vanderzees to the Tompkins family. Until 1977 the collection remained in three different houses within a mile of each other. The Tompkins cared for and added to the collection for several more generations before donating it to the Museum.

            This family, like many others, saved their belongings for a variety of reasons. Framed portraits, jewelry or objects of cultural heritage commemorate major family events. Family bibles, decorative marriage certificates or diaries provide a record of those events. Handmade items, such as a quilt or intricately stitched socks, express the personality of a family member. Other objects, such as fine silver, jewelry and handcrafted furniture may have been saved because they conveyed a family’s status, symbolic of social and economic success. The most important motive for family collecting is to remind families that they are joined together forever in an unbreakable bond.

            The Tompkins family collection grew as the Ten Eycks, Vanderzees and Tompkins married into other local families. It remained in the family homestead in Coeymans Hollow, 15 miles south of Albany, until John Tompkins (1919-1977) inherited the farm in 1966. John ran the farm while his brother Stephen (1914-1998) went to college and eventually became a vice president for Chrysler Motor Corporation.  When John died the farm was sold to the Sycamore Country Club. The farmhouse was demolished but the



huge barn was saved and is now the clubhouse.

            Stephen Tompkins became the next family curator and the collection moved to Detroit and then to Arizona. He donated some items from the collection but the bulk of the collection was donated by his widow, Georgann Byrd-Tompkins, after his death in 1998. Stephen’s daughter, Polly Tompkins, also donated items in 2002 and 2004. Mrs. Byrd Tompkins has also set up a Museum endowment for the acquisition, interpretation and preservation of New York’s early Dutch material culture.

            The items on display are representative of the hundreds of objects in the Museum’s entire Tompkins collection. Those exhibited include the core of the collection inherited by John and Stephen, which is a grouping of early New York Dutch furniture that furnished the 1749 home of ancestor Andries Ten Eyck (1718-1802). These include a Dutch Kast, a large cupboard made in Albany County used to store linens and valuables; a two-drawer blanket chest and a pair of Hudson Valley side chairs, branded with Ten Eyck’s initials. Among the many other items are a quilt made by Jane Ten Eyck (1783-1827); Victorian bracelets, rings and stickpins; tableware and homespun linen sheets and blankets, bearing family initials, and a pair of hand-knit stockings, initialed and dated the year they were made in 1863.

            The exhibition points out the importance of family collections, which often form the foundation of many museums and historical societies across New York State and throughout the world. As the Tompkins experience shows, the collecting process continues only if there is an interested family member, at least in every other generation, committed to preserving the family’s heirlooms.

            The New York State Museum is a cultural program of the New York State Department of Education.  Started in 1836, the Museum has the longest continuously operating state natural history research and collection survey in the United States. The State Museum is located on Madison Avenue in Albany. It is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.  Admission is free. Further information about programs and events can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the museum website at

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