Jefferson County has one of the smallest populations of New York State counties, scattered through a medium sized county. We are proud of the accessibility, and eagerness to be of assistance of our research facilities. Many are tiny, compared with those near large centers of population, and have extremely limited hours; some are open only one or two part days a week. As with most such institutions, many of ours are financed by contributions and staffed with volunteers. Donations to cover costs of postage and copying are expected.
We cannot emphasize too much the necessity of writing or calling ahead. Many people apply to this website for information concerning the research institutions, but there are over a hundred, and their hours and staff vary constantly as do all volunteer organizations. We try to provide current addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses, whenever possible. It is absolutely necessary for you to call or write ahead if you are going to use these facilities. Some will make special accommodations to extend their limited hours for out of county visitors, given sufficient notice. For others, this is impossible. Plan ahead to avoid being disappointed.
For details about each large institution, see WHERE TO FIND INFORMATION IN JEFFERSON COUNTY, or look at each town in which you are interested. The best place to start is the genealogy room in the FLOWER LIBRARY in Watertown. It has the largest collection of historical and genealogical information in Jefferson county and covers in some respects St Lawrence, Lewis and parts of Oswego and Oneida Counties as well. The genealogy room will usually answer questions very briefly by email. They insist on SASE for anything more than a sentence, and a small donation with it to cover the expense of postage and copying may bring faster results.
Next largest, and quite different, is the Historical Association of South Jefferson, familiarly known as South Jeff. They have undertaken an ambitious program of photocopying and indexing the Jefferson County Journal, a weekly newspaper with a long history in the county. While they concentrate on the six southernmost towns in Jefferson County: Adams, Ellisburg, Henderson, Lorraine, Rodman and Worth, they also cover, in lesser degree, the whole county. At one time, the Jefferson County Journal, published in Adams, was the principal newspaper for the county.
Lyme Heritage Center is dedicated to helping people connect with their roots. Staffed by extremely dedicated volunteers, it covers the town of Lyme. A volunteer is on duty Monday and Tuesday from 10 to 12 and on Wednesday and Friday from 1 to 3. Our mailing address is PO Box 285, Chaumont, NY 13622. Our physical address is 8718 County Route 5, Three Mile Bay, the old Grange Hall, which is behind the Lucky Dog Bed and Breakfast in Three Mile Bay. To ask about times call Julie Gosier at 649 - 5452, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cape Vincent Historical Museum has a treasure house of scrapbooks, fully indexed, to access the nineteenth century life of your Cape Vincent area ancestors. Information on births and marriages, as well as obituaries, cut from newspapers long out of business, often contain information found nowhere else. While concentrating on Cape Vincent, they certainly do not observe the township lines. The museum has a fine display of artifacts showing the uniquely French heritage of Cape Vincent.
Most Jefferson County genealogy must be done at the town level. That is where birth, death, and marriage records are held. At present, all but two towns have town historians. These people are prohibited by law to research genealogy; that is, they may not prepare pedigree charts or family group sheets and such specialized documents. On the other hand, it is their mandate to supply historical information about the town and its residents, and they are generally willing and gracious about providing general family information. In cooperation with the Jefferson County Genealogical Society's research committee, each town page will soon list all research facilities found within its borders.
The City of Watertown is different. The city historian and village historians, do not share the prohibition about genealogy. Their willingness is strictly a personal decision. Remember that Watertown is both a township and a city, that the city is NOT in the township, and you deal with different persons and rules. The City Historian's Office, with a new city historian, has made important changes in the last few years.
Town and village clerks are required by law to charge for providing records. The charges are set by government, and are not subject to bargaining. If you have the time and opportunity to search in person, that is by far the best way to obtain the most information, but you will still be forbidden to touch the records. The law also dictates which records may be accessed, and Jefferson county has little official recorded history prior to 1890. Dates vary with the town and village, and the number of fires in town offices. Clerks will provide copies of documents by mail. To save yourself frustration, and to save the clerks needless work, observe the privacy protection law which prevents them from issuing most information about citizens until 75 years after the death of the individual. In other words, do not expect to obtain birth, death, or marriage records of living persons, or of those who are recently deceased.
The local name for the complex housing Jefferson County's legal and other records, found on Arsenal Street in Watertown, just off Public Square, is The County Buildings. Here the public has free access to deeds, mortgages, census books and other such legal records. A partial listing may be found on the website. We find the civil servants polite and helpful, but a word to the wise here: politeness breeds politeness. Please, thank you, and a smile can truly work magic, and can inspire a tired clerk to go that extra mile for the records neither of you knew existed. Wills are found on another floor in the same building. Rarely, one finds a will inexplicably tucked in with the deeds, so it is prudent to look at both sets of documents. Copies of deeds and wills, as well as other documents, are available. Again, the fees are fixed, and allow no bargaining.
Be aware that not all of the facilities mentioned have genealogical information, but if you are looking for the wider picture of your family, some may hold facts of interest. Again, not all of our small libraries will admit to having genealogical information. Almost all of them do have county histories, and some have a little very local history, perhaps township or village histories, if they are available. They may have information on Civil War service, World War I and II participants, diaries, or journals, scrapbooks, and at most, one or two genealogies donated by the author. Some may be staffed by part time non-professionals, actually volunteers, and may not really know what they do have. Family history is a very small part of their service. A few gems, such as Lyme Free Library in Chaumont, the Carthage Free Library in Carthage, the Bodman Library in Philadelphia, Theresa Free Library in Theresa, and Hawn Library in Clayton, actually maintain a genealogical presence. Volunteers manning the genealogical section of the library may be there only once a week or twice a month, so it is doubly important to contact the library before showing up on the doorstep. Librarians have learned through sad experience that opening their special collections to the public, without supervision, invites disaster. The only way to discover whether a library is of interest to you is to make a personal visit.
North Country Libraries, the regional coordinator, is in the process of designing and putting up new pages for its client libraries. We hope to be informed as they become available. As of September 2004, these are now on line: Libraries
Be sure to check out the North Country Libraries main page for a surprising amount of useful information dealing with non library topics.
The impact of Fort Drum on the history of Jefferson County has been shattering. It has swallowed up churches, farms, villages, hamlets, post offices and cemeteries, and you will find access to the places your ancestors occupied extremely difficult, if they had the misfortune to live within the present boundaries of the military reservation. Application to the authorities may be helpful at certain times of the year, such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans' Day, and to certain areas, but large sections of the towns of Antwerp, Theresa, Philadelphia, LeRay and Wilna are simply off limits to the casual visitor. The post does provide tours and guides for those mentioned days, and perhaps some others, but it would be wise to call ahead and make reservations. Be warned that much of the huge area has grown up to brush and trees, buildings have been bulldozed, and while the post has made an attempt to honor the cemeteries, some have disappeared, perhaps forever, while others have suffered from misplaced artillery fire. Many have been renamed by the military, which makes looking for a particular cemetery difficult. Roads are tricky and unmapped, and getting lost is a constant hazard, once you get into the back country.
Don't neglect cemeteries. If you know where your ancestor was buried, take the time to visit the cemetery. You can derive useful information by observing the names on nearby stones. Families tend to occupy the same sections of the cemetery. While the website does not have listings of names found in all cemeteries, most of the graveyards in Jefferson County have volunteers willing to look up the name, if you know in which town your ancestor is buried.
Brookside Cemetery and North Watertown Cemeteries have most, if not all, their records on computer. These are the two largest cemeteries for the city of Watertown. They provide information to inquirers.
Information on Six Town cemeteries, those in Adams, Ellisburg, Henderson, Lorraine, Rodman and Worth, is available from the Historical Association of South Jefferson. See LOOK UP page. Our ancestors moved about. Look at neighboring townships if you don't find them buried where you expect. Remember that many of our ancestors could not afford a gravestone, and others left no living or local descendants to place one for them. Unmarked graves are found in every cemetery. Some cemeteries, such as Walton Street and Highland Park in Alexandria Bay, have preserved no record of burials, and hold minimal, if any, information about plot ownership. A last caution: check the chart showing the formation of the towns for placement of your ancestors. Some of mine were early inhabitants of the town of Brownville, yet are buried in the Stone Mills cemetery in the town of Orleans. Years ago, this was a cause of checking and double checking records, until I realized that though they settled and were in the 1810 census in Brownville, the town of Orleans was formed in time for them to be found at Stone Mills by 1820, without moving. As with any research, one receives the best results from personal investigation, on the spot. Families tend to be buried in groups, and names on neighboring gravestones may provide important clues to maiden names and marriages.
Funeral home records are another source of information. Some give such information as parents of deceased, location of birth, location of death, as well as cemetery location. If your specific funeral home records are not in Flower Library, which has the largest collection in the county, try other research facilities. Funeral home records are not indexed, and to expect a volunteer to page through twenty or a hundred handwritten books in search of a name is an imposition. This is job for a paid researcher, or for personal searching.
Some historical societies do not have a location. Their holdings may be in the village library, or stashed away in boxes in someone's home. They may not even have anything of interest to the family historian, and they will certainly be maintained by someone who has volunteered or been elected to a thankless, unpaid job. On the other hand, there may be treasures waiting for discovery, as in the Cape Vincent Historical Museum, and well organized records with cheerful assistants to help you. The Jefferson County Historical Museum does not make genealogy a priority, but sends the searcher across the street to the Flower Library, which does. Again, personal investigation, after writing ahead, is almost a necessity.
Jefferson County has four regular newspapers, all interested in their area's local history, all printing obituaries, and all maintaining back files, in various states and stages of accessibility. "The Watertown Daily Times" is the only daily, and has, since the 1930s, and sporadically before that time, provided a wealth of genealogical information in its obituaries: date and place of birth, if available; names of parents, spouses and survivors, children, often giving married names, and occupation. Again a caution: this data is only as good as the person giving it, often someone grieving for a loved one and not in the best of spirits for accuracy. Watch for corrections, printed a few days later, of survivors omitted, of incorrect dates and other such data. Flower Library Genealogy Room maintains an extensive alphabetized file of the current and more recent obituaries, with a very few older ones. The main library houses the complete production of the Watertown Daily Times on microfilm. The Watertown Times office also maintains files, both clippings and computerized. They are fairly complete from 1930 to date. The Watertown Times office is best accessed by mail, though it does have a library with extremely restricted hours and no real place to sit or research. They do not have microfilms of back issues, but will refer you to Flower Library, across the street, for those.
The three Jefferson County weeklies, all covering different sections of the county, but all filled with local interest and lots of local names are: "The Thousand Islands Sun", published at Alexandria Bay, which includes the old "On the St. Lawrence", once published at Clayton. This newspaper covers the northern or river part of the county. Microfilms of back issues and a microfilm reader may be found at the "Sun" office on Route 12, just west of the village. The "Jefferson County Journal", one of the oldest newspapers in the county, covers the south western section of the county, and is published in Adams. It is being indexed and computerized. Information is available at South Jeff (see above). The third, published in Carthage, also with a long history, is the "Carthage Republican Tribune". This covers much of the eastern portion of the county. Microfilm files are available. The Heritage Room of the Carthage Free Library is constantly adding to its indices of obituaries, and has a well organized local history section, as well as a limited number of local genealogies, some of which are not available elsewhere. Click on Carthage Free Library for details.
Be sure to read the HINTS ON USING THE JEFFERSON COUNTY NY GENWEBSITE in order to make full use of this website. Important areas are the Childs pages, giving biographies of early settlers and important people in the county, and the Jefferson County Pioneers, which may put you in touch with others searching your family. If you are in doubt about the location of a place name, look under POSTOFFICES, JEFFERSON COUNTY PLACE NAMES, and CENTERS OF POPULATION OLD AND NEW. The LINKS page holds many possible clues: perhaps your family has a home page listed under FAMILY WEB PAGES. When considering web pages, do include collateral families. Each family homepage is the individual creation of its owner, and no two are alike in content or design. The Sanderson Files, supplemented by the Town Clerk's record of Civil War Servicemen provide tidbits about many of the men who fought in the War Between the States. In some cases one can find date and place of birth and mothers' maiden names, items difficult to come by in Jefferson County.
One last caution: many of the smaller facilities are working on a shoestring budget, if any. Some exist solely on donations. If you want the information to remain as available as it is, remember to enclose SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) or better yet, include a small donation with your request. There is no way you can judge the size of the envelope needed (we all hope the information will fill a large manila one) and by covering the cost of the mailing, you encourage the volunteer to include everything. Prompt payment of any copying costs insures that repeat requests will be quickly honored. One does hear, "She still owes me for the last two mailings. I'm not sending any more!" Asking for a volunteer's time is one matter, but expecting copies and postage to be provided without charge is unrealistic. Also be realistic in your requests. Some people have asked us to run over to Canada to do some research for them. We do not do that. One of the lookups asked for that service lives in Florida. On the website is a list of researchers who will help you for a fee. Limit your out of county requests to them.
We hope that this overview of Jefferson County research will answer some of your questions, encourage you to use this website more efficiently, and most of all, help you find your family roots. Always review on the website the townships you wish to visit. We are continually adding new information as we find it, and we are, at present, actively exploring each town for more facilities. If there is a topic not covered here, please let us know so that we can add it. The Thousand Islands area is a beautiful one to visit, and research is always better, faster, more complete, and simply more fun when done in person. There is much for your companions to seto see and to enjoy while you locate your ancestors.
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County Co-Coordinator Bruce Coyne.
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