Thursday, July 31, 2003
Ulster archives has data to 1600sBy Anthony
Want to know
the daily menu of residents at the Ulster County Poorhouse in
the late 1880s?
The Ulster County Archives has that and many other
documents stored in its records center in Kingston. Much of
the material, which includes documents dating to the 1600s, is
indexed and searchable on the Ulster County Clerk's Web site.
Students, writers and genealogists make use of the
archives' array of records to find information ranging from
slavery to American Indian and Dutch history in the area.
''We like to say we're here to keep yesterday's records
available for tomorrow's use,'' said Laurie Hancock, deputy
county clerk for records management in Ulster. ''They do tell
the tale of who we are, where we've been; they cite our
obligations, our responsibilities.''
Some believe if Dutchess County government had a historian
or archivist on staff, there would be no questions about the
fate of a book detailing information on the hundreds of people
believed to be buried at the site of the former Dutchess
County Infirmary in the Town of Washington.
County officials say the ledger was turned over to the
Dutchess County Historical Society, a nonprofit organization.
The historical society says it received a box of materials
from the county but doesn't know if the book is in it.
Joyce Ghee, president of the historical society, said
Dutchess government probably has one of the richest treasure
troves of historical records in the Hudson Valley. Ghee was
the last person to serve as county historian and the position
has been open since she left in 1991.
Benefits to archivist
Having an archivist on staff as well as a historian would
be beneficial on many levels, Ghee said.
Such programs are being run with much success in other
counties in the Hudson Valley, she said.
''There are lots of skills an archivist has that would be
not only basically useful to the public that wants
information, but also makes them a kind of keeper of the
treasury,'' she said.
The historian could then help make archival documents
available through public displays or celebrations, Ghee said.
''Those are the kinds of things we're not doing now in
Dutchess County and other counties are,'' she said. ''It's too
Dutchess' charter requires that there be a county
historian's office. But the office has not been fully funded
in 12 years by county officials.
County Executive William Steinhaus said a historian can
enrich a community, but the county's discretionary funding has
been needed to rebuild the local economy and address other
needs, including human services, public safety and public
''We have evaluated the position and the county's ability
to commit to this funding annually, and we will again look at
and evaluate it in the 2004 budget process, which we are just
beginning,'' Steinhaus said.
County records are stored, for the most part, at a central
storage facility on Washington Street in Poughkeepsie. The
archival records there aren't made available to the public,
meaning Dutchess is missing out on another way to help attract
tourists to the area, Ghee said.
Ghee was paid just under $32,000 in her last year as county
historian. The starting salary for Ulster's archivist is
roughly $27,000 a year.
''You have all this talk about budgets and crunches and
then you see there's money to keep the ball stadium open,
money to raise salaries, money to do this and money to do
that,'' said Eileen Hayden, executive director of the Dutchess
County Historical Society. ''The drop in the bucket the county
historian would be for the amount of work, and value of the
work, to be done, it's hard to measure.''