Royden Woodward Vosburgh's Religious Record Transcriptions

Friday, September 9, 2016 - 12:15pm
Author: 
Frederick Wertz

Religious records are among the most important categories of records for the family history researcher, especially those researching in New York State. 

Some of the most useful record sets available in our Online Records Platform is our New York State Religious record transcriptions, done in the early twentieth century by the NYG&B's Historian and Archivist, Royden Woodward Vosburgh.

Vosburgh obtained records from over 120 churches throughout New York State, leaving no stone unturned and capturing the information in the records with meticulous and professional clarity and care.

These transcriptions contain vital records from 120 churches in 22 different New York counties. Read on to see what you can find, and learn about the unique quality of this set.

Because New York State vital records can be challenging to find, religious records are one of our most often recommended vital record substitutes

A most carefully crafted collection

Vosburgh and other members of the NYG&B staff worked on this project from 1913 to about 1920 and left behind a set of transcriptions that are among the most accurate you can hope to find.

The aim of the project was to reproduce, with photographic accuracy, each page of the original and uncopied New York State church records.

The typewritten records have a distinct advantage over the originals—you won't have to stress over interpreting century-old handwriting!

Of course, the savvy genealogist knows that transcribers themselves are also prone to misinterpreting handwriting and can be justifiably skeptical for this reason.

However, in this case, we're not dealing with amateur transcription. Vosburgh was the official Historian and Archivist of the NYG&B and it's clear from his own writing that he took meticulous care in creating these documents. The other members of the NYG&B staff who worked on this project with him were also trained professionals, like Minnie Cohen, who served as the official stenographer of the NYG&B during Vosburgh's tenure. 

In fact, the NYG&B went so far as to acquire legal certification that the transcriptions were accurate, including notarized statements from him and any others who worked on the project at the beginning of each volume.

Vosburgh wrote that "the typewritten copies are certified, in order that they may be used as evidence, if necessary, in a court of record." We can't exactly attest to how they might stand up in a court of law, but the certification at least lends some credence to the accuracy of the records from a genealogical perspective.

Here's an example:


If only all transcribers made such sworn statements!

Vosburgh's work exhibits the great amount of care he and other transcribers took to preserve all aspects of these volumes in his transcription. He had a true appreciation for the actual physical objects as pieces of history worth capturing as well.

He also describes, in detail, other aspects of the original volumes, right down to the number of blank pages, a description of the cover, and commentary on the quality of the records, which is sometimes quite humorous:


"On page 29, Rev. Mr. Pilmore commenced his regular records with a complaint concerning the deficiencies of the Clerks;
in my opinion the entries that he himself wrote down, are no better than the records kept by the Clerks"

What can I find in these records?

These records include images of the transcriptions of the original baptism, marriage, and death registers kept by various New York State churches. Depending on the type of record you are looking at, you can discover the following information:

  • Full names
  • Dates of baptisms, marriages or deaths
  • Parents' and witnesses' names
  • Church name and denomination
  • Lists of church members

Usually, all writing in the original record, in Dutch, German or Latin, has been reproduced in the copy. In these cases, the words have then been translated by "competent authorities" in the notes at the bottom of each page.

Vosburgh notes that the original language is left intact "in case the more learned should not wish to accept these translations."

Most of the typewritten copies are prefixed, with an introduction—this is where Vosburgh reviews the original book and notes any inconsistencies in record collection that he discovered.

Some volumes include a complete history of the church from its establishment to modern times. Others contain the history of the settlements traced from the first land grants.

How to access our religious record collections

These records are organized by county, so researchers should browse our collections catalog for their county of interest. Each collection page allows you to search that collection specifically, and also contains a comprehensive list of all congregations included in the collection. Descriptions also explain the exact records and years covered, and provide waypoint links for those who would like to browse: 

It is also possible to search all religious record collections at once, regardless of county. Visit our main search page and select "advanced search," then "religious records" from the category dropdown menu:

 

Access to these records is just one of the many benefits of NYG&B membership - join us today!

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