The Thrill Of Original Records

My reader’s card for the City Archives of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Some readers may know that not only am I very involved with genealogy and family history but I have also compiled two books of land transactions from the Holland Land Company. The Holland Land Company, a stock company, was set up by the Dutch banking houses that purchased the 3.3 million acres of western New York in the 1790s. Most everyone owning land in Chautauqua County would have a title search that would go back to the Holland Land Company.

Beginning in 1800, the company began selling western New York land. All these transactions were recorded in the Company’s books. Potential settlers would sign an Article of Agreement to pay for the land within a set number of years plus interest, often agreeing to build a house and clear land in that time period.

Some did, some did not, fulfill the agreement but each was recorded in the company’s books but not the county records until the full payment was made and they would receive a deed. The books I compiled from the Archives of the Holland Land Company include each name with date of the transaction, and the place, and with a reference to the source in the archives.

The actual records are in the custody of the Municipal Archives of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. A number of years ago these records were microfilmed to allow access to the records in this country. The records are filmed onto 202 rolls of microfilm. I used five of those rolls to produce the two volumes covering the years 1804-1835.

If you are involved in genealogy and family history you know the importance of original records if they can be accessed. You also feel the thrill when actually standing on the ground where ancestors also had stood, or seeing the same house they had lived in, or locating their final resting place.

Last week I accomplished that same feeling while I actually held some of the papers and books of the Holland Land Company that I had only seen on microfilm. I was in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, with a small tour group of genealogists when we visited the Amsterdam City Archives. I had enough free time to obtain my readers card and order two of the books that I wanted to see. Within the half hour, while I browsed the gift shop, they were retrieved.

I presented my readers card in the reading room and I actually was handed one of the books. I was able to look for Chautauqua County entries. I photographed a few of the pages which I had only seen on the microfilm. I did not actually discover new information but I saw and held the original books. What a thrill.

I remember reading Dr. Chazanof’s book, Joseph Ellicott and the Holland Land Company, and marveling at the fact that he went to Amsterdam and used the original records as resources for his book. Then Francesca Safran, from Reed Library at Fredonia, did the same thing for her thesis on William Peacock. It was through her efforts that the microfilmimg was accomplished and the information is available to researchers in the United States.

Now it was my turn to visit the Archives in Amsterdam and see the records in person and actually hold some in my hands.