Community Based Resources
Central to the inside-out approach of the community historian is a comprehension of the actual community record. That enables us to consider the story of the people of colonial Albany in their own terms.
Each of the lifecourse biographies presented by the Colonial Albany Social History Project is based on the research conducted by the project in a systematic search of historical resources over the past two decades. Structuring that long term effort is a comprehensive guide to project operations entitled The People of Colonial Albany: A Community History Project (1994 edition).
Since most of the 16,000 historical characters that make up the early Albany study population never wrote anything, our work relies chiefly on the records generated by a range of community-based organizations and institutions. Relevant portions of the records of external organizations and institutions have been tapped as well. Beyond that, we have and will continue to utilize literary sources, material remains, and archeological resources in our effort to understand the people of colonial Albany and their world.
This page begins to identify the resources used to construct our basic "People of Colonial Albany" lifecourse biographies. Listed below are six general categories of information used to organize and articulate historical research:
1. Demographics: Information on birth, death, marriage, and family. [These facts set each unique, Albany community member in time and tells us about an individual's family.]
2. Community Standing: How individuals ranked in the community setting. [These sources identify an individual as a visible community member and places the person on the community landscape.]
3. Activities: Social and economic information. [Occupations, work, and participation history]
4. Property: Real estate and other property holdings. [Tells us where a person lived.]
5. Literary Resources: Descriptive, unofficial accounts. [Tells us how others perceived an individual.]
6. Material Culture: Objects, graphics, and archeological resources. [Provides a window on life through visible remains/material legacies.]
Parameters and Emphasis: The presentation of biographies on this website follows several agendas! Generally speaking, what we do is guided by four practical considerations:
Because the Colonial Albany Project
was established to answer questions about the people of the city during
the era of the Revolution, new research and subsequent
web presentations must be focused on individuals who lived during that time.
Expect to see more web features that address the lives of the so-called
"revolutionary generation" than anything else.
Second, because fewer sources exist, we do not expect to be able to comprehend the lives of those who lived in the community during its formative years (prior to about 1680.) in ways comparable to what we can know about those born in America. This has to do with the comparative absence of institutions and (even more so) their records for the earliest period. We do, however, have much heretofore unpresented information and perspectives covering that period that are basic to understanding the life of the city after 1686. Although the early period is not our emphasis, we offer dozens of web features that appear nowhere else!
Third, research potentials (the paper trail) are so much more fertile for the period after 1800 that we struggle to resist the temptation to focus on people and the community that existed in the decades after the American Revolution. A cardinal sin here (and one rarely avoided by our predecessors), has been to present Victorian perspectives on pre-industrial life - and to have those represent the history of the eighteenth century community.
Fourth, at the heart of our inquiry and exposition
are the lives of the diverse, everyday people (permanent and longterm residents)
who make up the early Albany mainline. Community
History is biased toward the "regulars" or "stayers." Our research design
accords their lives the highest priority. Many other individuals visited
or briefly lived in early Albany - technically qualifying
them for inclusion in the study population. Some of those people (for
example, Sir William Johnson and Reverend
John Miller left extensive records of their lifetimes - mostly beyond
the city limits. We resist the temptations to tell their out-of-Albany stories
and instead to focus on their lives while in the community.
Finally, some of the features presented on this website exist chiefly to provide answers to issues in the lives of the core people, places, and things that make up the early Albany story. They may never be more than skeletal sketches!
The Guide: Stefan Bielinski,
The People of Colonial Albany: A Community History Project (1994
edition), 168 total pages, illustrations, appendices. The Guide is organized into sections beginning with project definitions and goals; and including comprehensive expositions on historical resources; data analysis; programming (presentation of historical materials); and services (how the project interacts with the larger historical community).
The Guide describes each type historical resource utilized and articulates a strategy and plan for present and future research. Each individual resource is described in detail. The overall research design and all relevant resources are discussed in section 2, pages 2-63.
We have begun to make the Guide an online resource. Currently, the most recent printed edition (1994) is available in paper form.
Demographics: Birth information is derived from church records, bible records, legal documents (such as marriage licenses and probate materials), obituaries, and cemetery recordings.
Community Standing: These lists of Albany people include censuses, assessment rolls, membership and participation lists and rosters, and other surveys of all or parts of the early Albany community. Information from these sources was processed first as they included the largest proportion of community members.
Activities: This category includes information recovered systematically
from records resources on work history, dealings with public
and private institutions (churches and
the military) and organizations (membership
groups such as the Masons and the Albany
Mechanics Society), and the courts.
Property: Includes information on real
property, ships, and other assets including slaves.
Deeds and other conveyances, maps, and newspaper and other descriptions
are important resources for these areas.
Literary Sources: Interpretive information
retrieved from letters, observations,
journals, and accounts, and from reminiscent sources such as memoirs.
These resources are not records but impressions remembered and recorded
by an individual observer.
Material Culture: Thousands of images of
relevant people, places, and things from many sources have been
copied and are held in a variety of formats in the project Graphics
Archive. Images and imaging is further discussed in a webpage
theme essay and a recent conference
paper. Maps online are indexed.